Press freedom advocates demanded Thursday that Tanzanian authorities disclose everything they know about missing journalist Azory Gwanda, after a government minister said the reporter who disappeared in 2017 was dead.
Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi told the BBC that Gwanda, who vanished after reporting on a string of murders, had “disappeared and died” somewhere in Tanzania’s eastern Rufiji region.
Gwanda’s wife said he vanished on 21 November 2017, after leaving in a white Toyota Land Cruiser with unknown people on an “emergency trip.” He promised to return the following evening, but was never seen again.
Kabudi’s statement provoked outrage in Tanzania and beyond.
“The government has a responsibility to protect all citizens. Family, friends and the public want to know what happened to Gwanda. If he is dead, we have a right to know under what circumstances,” Anna Henga from the Legal and Human Rights Centre, a Tanzanian advocacy group, told AFP.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has called Tanzanian President John Magufuli a “press freedom predator,” joined the call for answers.
“After a year and a half of silence and then downplaying the journalist’s disappearance, the minister announces his death without explanation,” RSF’s Africa representative Arnaud Froger told AFP.
“The flippancy with which the Tanzanian authorities have handled this case illustrates the low regard they have for the safe exercise of free and independent journalism.”
The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists called the minister’s remarks “wholly inadequate and distressing.”
Police said in 2017 they were investigating the disappearance of Gwanda, a reporter for the Tanzanian newspapers Mwananchi and The Citizen.
Tanzanian civil society groups have accused the government of President John Magufuli of targeting opponents and curbing freedom of the press.
Elected in 2015, Magufuli came to power as a corruption-fighting “man of the people,” but has been criticised for his authoritarian leadership style.
Tanzania fell 25 places on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index in 2018.