Dar es Salaam. Tanzania is suing three musicians who sang about police brutality in their song that has so far gone viral, charging them with the publication of “false information,” which is against the controversial Cybercrime Act of 2015.
The musicians – Sifa Boniventura Bujune, Salome Mwampeta and Hezekiel Millyashi – sing about police brutality in their song titled Mnatuona Nyani, which translates to You See Us As Apes in English, where they allege that a young man had his teeth gorged out by police officers for no reason.
The gospel singers were detained for five days without bail before being produced in court on Tuesday, which their lawyer Jebra Kambole described as “unlawful.” The musicians denied committing the offence, and they’re out on bail, Kambole told The Chanzo.
In their two minutes eleven seconds-song published on YouTube and other social media platforms, the musicians decry what they perceive as a lack of accountability in the government, accusing it of not being responsive to people’s needs and of attempts to muzzle criticisms.
From the government’s failure to respond to people’s complaints on the Tanzania-Dubai port deal to authorities’ attempts to ‘relocate’ Maasai people from Ngorongoro, the musicians mention several issues that they think are a result of authorities’ failure to serve the people as they should.
“I’ve now realised that for one to be fully human, you must oppress others, and when they complain, you shut them down,” the musicians sing. “This is because you see us as apes.”
Immediately after being released, the song went viral, with many people sharing it on social media, attracting the attention of authorities who now think that the song contained false information, which is against the laws of the land.
Although the song contains several messages, authorities took issue only with the one concerning police officers gorging out the teeth of a young man, which they claim to have violated Section 16 of the Cybercrimes Act, No. 14 of 2015, the charge sheet shows.
The section, which prohibits publishing “false, deceptive, misleading, or inaccurate” data or information online, is one of the Act’s sections that formed the basis of its criticism by freedom of expression activists before lawmakers passed it.
The trio faces Criminal Case No. 135 of 2023 at the District Court of Mbeya, and if convicted, they risk being fined not less than Sh5 million or imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or both.
Authorities’ move to seek the conviction of the musicians attracted criticism from many people online, with others urging the Samia Suluhu Hassan Administration not to entertain actions that put Tanzanians’ freedom of expression in danger.
Fatma Karume, a renowned human rights activist and lawyer in the country, described the government’s decision as “intolerable” in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, a social media platform.
“When the government is denying there is police brutality and arrests anyone who protests police brutality, it’s clear someone somewhere wants to hide the skeletons and has no intention of bringing about reforms,” said Ms Karume in another post.
Members of law enforcement organs in Tanzania, particularly the Police Force, are no strangers to accusations of brutality and human rights violations.
For instance, a presidential commission to investigate organs responsible for dispensing criminal justice system in Tanzania condemned the disproportionate use of force by police while undertaking their duties, “resulting in abuse and torture to the accused.”
These accusations have been so widespread that President Samia Suluhu Hassan admitted publicly that police officers mostly ignore their code of conduct and oath of office while on duty, accusing them of threatening and harassing even innocent people.
Artistic freedom has been increasingly coming under attack in Tanzania recently, with authorities showing a solid willingness to ban songs deemed “inciting” and “immoral.”
For example, rapper Nay Wa Mitego has had several of his songs that are critical to the administration banned from being played on local radio and TV stations.
Recently, the musician complained that authorities are preventing him from performing those songs at music events and shows.
Bujune and her fellow accused are set to reappear in court on October 3, 2023, their lawyer Kambole told The Chanzo on Wednesday, adding that they’re now continuing their daily activities at their respective homes.