Tanzania: Judicial harassment of Mr. Maxence Melo and Mr. Mike William

09/06/2017
Urgent Appeal

TZA 001 / 0617 / OBS 060
Judicial harassment / Release on bail
Tanzania
June 9, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Tanzania.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassment faced by Mr. Maxence Melo, Managing Director of Jamii Media and Mr. Mike William, who is a shareholder of Jamii Media [1]. Jamii Media promotes freedom of expression through JamiiForums.com while ensuring the privacy of citizens who seek to engage in online discussions on current affairs and human rights issues in Tanzania.

Since 2010, the government of Tanzania has enacted several laws putting additional barriers to online freedom of expression and to the work of human rights defenders [2]. Among these new laws, the Cybercrimes Act, which came into force in September 2015, has been used as a tool to censor dissent voices and journalists and to further restrict the right to freedom of expression [3]. It is within this context that the two human rights defenders are facing judicial harassment.

Messrs. Melo and William are due to appear on July 4, 5, and 6, 2017 before the Kisutu Resident Magistrate Court in relation to three criminal cases which seem to be aiming at sanctioning their human rights activities.

Mr. Maxence Melo was arrested on December 13, 2016 by the Tanzania Police Force and further held in custody on allegations of complaints from people claiming to be affected by some posts and discussions held on JamiiForums. The Tanzania Police Force then asked Mr. Melo to provide them with data of online users who had engaged in so-called “controversial debates” over several alleged “corruption deals” on the JamiiForums website between May 10, 2015 and December 13, 2016 (basis for court case number 456) and between April 1, 2016 and December 13, 2016 (basis for court case number 457). Mr. Melo refused to provide such information, arguing that it would run counter digital privacy and confidentiality laws, and in particular Article 18 of the Constitution of Tanzania, guaranteeing the right to privacy.

On December 15, 2016, the police searched both the premises of Jamii Media and Mr. Maxence Melo’s home without any warrant. Furthermore, the police interrogated some Jamii Media staff members at their office premises in Mikocheni, Dar es Salaam, and later at the Central Police Station.

The police kept Mr. Melo in custody for more than 48 hours without interrogation and in absence of charges against him, in violation of Tanzanian legislation which sets a four-hour limit for police interrogation without charges [4].

It is however only on December 16, 2016, that the Resident Magistrate Court of Dar-es-Salaam at Kisutu indicted Mr. Maxence Melo under three sets of charges: “obstruction of a police investigation” under the 2015 Cyber Crimes Act; “not complying with an order of disclosure of data” (cases 456 and 457); as well as “managing a domain not registered in Tanzania” in contravention of the requirements of the Electronics and Postal Communications (2010) Act (case 458). Mr. Maxence Melo was eventually granted bail on December 19, 2016 pending trial.

On May 2, 2017, during a hearing in case 456, the Senior State Attorney had brought as a witness a Deputy Zonal Crime Officer (ZCO), who had received one of the complaints against information [5] posted on JamiiForums. The witness related that after receiving the complaint, the ZCO opened a file to investigate allegations of defamatory/false information posted on JamiiForums. The witness further alleged that on February 23, 2017, the police department sent a letter to Jamii Media requesting the disclosure of the IP address of the user who posted the investigated information. In response, Jamii Media’s lawyers asked for the provision which would enable the police to request such private data as well as details on the alleged offence(s) committed. The witness then pointed out that since Jamii Media did not provide the information requested, the ZCO proceeded with the arrest of Mr. Maxence Melo on December 13 2016, and added another shareholder to the case-file, Mr. Mike William, on February 9, 2017, under accusations of intentionally and unlawfully refusing to provide information required for a criminal investigation. The next hearing is set for July 5.

Through the cross-examination, the witness admitted that there was no mention of the Cybercrimes Act in the letters sent from the police department under the ZCO supervision which were requesting information on JamiiForums. The witness also admitted that according to the Cybercrimes Act, when the police does not obtain the requested data, it needs to seek a remedy in Court before proceeding to any arrest. The hearing was postponed to the next day, when the defence counsel was able to perform a cross-examination of the witness. On that day, defence counsel pointed out that Mr. Maxence Melo’s arrest was illegal, and questioned why Mr. Mike William was added to the case. The hearing was postponed to May 8, 2017 and again to June 6, 2017.

Besides, on May 3, 2017, during a hearing in case 458 under which Messrs. Maxence Melo and Mike William are facing charges of “management of a domain not registered in Tanzania” under the 2010 Electronics and Postal Communications, the Manager of the Tanzania Network Information Center (tzNIC) [6] admitted that JamiiForums is registered twice under the institution database, and that the registration met the requirements of the Tanzanian web domain “.tz” (dots-tz), but that they were “not using the domain in the actual sense”, without providing any more explanations. The witness further admitted that no law makes it mandatory for companies such as JamiiForums to use the registered domain (.tz) instead of a generic (.com) domain. The next hearing is set for July 6.

The Observatory expresses its concerns over the judicial harassment of Messrs. Maxence Melo and Mike William, which seems to be aiming at sanctioning their human rights activities and particularly their actions against restrictive provisions of the Cybercrimes Act.

The Observatory urges the Tanzanian authorities to drop all charges against Messrs. Maxence Melo and Mike William and to ensure that all judicial proceedings against them are carried out in full compliance with their right to a fair trial as protected under international law as well as to end all forms of harassment against them.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Tanzania asking them to:

i. End of all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level against Messrs. Maxence Melo and Mike William as well as against all human rights defenders in Tanzania, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their work without any hindrance or fear of reprisals;

ii. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Maxence Melo and Mike William as well as of all human rights defenders in Tanzania;

iii. Comply with all the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with its Articles 1, 6 and 12.2;

iv. More generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Tanzania.

Addresses:

- President of Tanzania, Hon. Dr. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli Fax: +255 22 2113425; E-mail: ikulu@ikulu.go.tz
- Prime Minister of Tanzania, Rt. Hon. Kassim Majaliwa Fax: +255 22 2112850; E-mail: ps@pmo.go.tz
- Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Justice, Hon. Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe Fax: +255 22 211 3236; E-mail: katibumkuu@sheria.go.tz
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Hon. Dkt. Augustine Mahiga Fax: +255 (0)22 226600
- H.E. Mrs. Agnes Kayola, Ambassador, Embassy of Tanzania in Brussels, Belgium, Fax (0032) (0) 2 646 80 26; Email: tanzania@skynet.be
- H.E. Dr. James Alex Msekela, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary,
- Permanent Representative of the United Republic of Tanzania to the United Nations,
- Geneva and Vienna, Fax: +41 22 732 82 55; Email: mission.tanzania@ties.itu.int.
- Executive Secretary of the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG); Email: chragg@chragg.go.tz/mary.massay@chragg.go.tz, Fax: +255 22 2111533/2111281.

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Tanzania in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, June 9, 2017

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and OMCT. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
E-mail: Appeals[at]fidh-omct.org
Tel and fax FIDH + 33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT + 41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

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