The case against Tanzanian musician Mwana Cotide and music producer Mussa Sikabwe has once again been postponed until 9 March 2017. This is the fifth time their trial date has been pushed.
The two artists were initially set to face trial on 12 October 2016 on charges of producing, singing and distributing a song called ‘Dikteta Uchwara’ (Petty Dictator) that contained “seditious and offensive” content against Tanzanian President John Magufuli.
The October 2016 trial date was postponed to 9 November 2016, then to 22 December 2016, then again to 26 January 2017, then once again to 22 February 2017, and now 9 March 2017.
Tanzanian authorities officially claim the postponements have been due to investigations being incomplete. However, these overhanging charges and frequent trial resets have stifled Cotide and Sikabwe’s ability to work as artists, with Sikabwe’s musical equipment being confiscated and in police custody until the investigation is concluded.
“Not only are the charges against the two artists a gross violation of artistic freedom, but the ongoing confiscation of music instruments continues to take away their livelihoods as artists,” said Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov. “We call on the Tanzanian government to drop the charges immediately.”
In November 2016, Freemuse first called for the charges against Cotide and Sikabwe to be dropped and sent a letter to Dr. Harrison George Mwakyembe, Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs. The minister has yet to reply.
The two artists were charged at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate Court in capital city Dar es Salaam on 28 September 2016 for uploading a video of the song on YouTube in August 2016, as well as “distributing the song with intent to offend” the president, which is against the country’s 2015 Cybercrimes Act. The two denied the charges and are currently released on bail.
Since President Mugufuli took office in October 2015 and the Cybercrimes Act was enacted in May 2015, fourteen people have been arrested and charged for insulting the president on social media. So far only one person has been convicted of those charges, reported Global Voices on 30 September 2016.