4 Sep 2012

Daud Mwangosi - A line has been crossed

Channel 10 journalist and chair of the Iringa Press Club, Daud Mwangosi, was killed on Sunday by the police. This horrific and tragic event took place in the village of Nyololo, Mufindi district, during clashes between the police and Chadema supporters.

For once, the brutal details of this brutal killing seem very clear and easily available, as there were 7 other journalists present at the time. Francis Godwin's eyewitness blogpost is highly recommended, as is this post from Frank Leonard (both in Swahili, as are most of the links here). Subi Nukta has collected some photos together, though be warned that some are pretty graphic. And Monday's ITV news included some very clear eyewitness reports (again via Subi Nukta):

Together, these reports and pictures are pretty clear about what happened. There are several sources that tell the same story: eyewitnesses and photos that support their reports. So what do they tell us?

They tell us that Mwangosi was in Nyololo together with several other journalists to report on Chadema opening an office in the village, in defiance of police orders against political activities during the census period. There was a heavy police presence in the village. Another journalist, Godfrey Mushi of Nipashe, was apprehended by the police, and Mwangosi went to find out why. A group of police officers then turned on Mwangosi, beating him badly for several minutes.

The reports tell us that Regional Police Commander, Michael Kamuhanda, was nearby in a stationary vehicle, and was informed that the man the police were beating was a journalist. However, he took no steps to stop this, and a few minutes later a tear gas cannister was shot into Mwangosi's stomach from point blank range. Mwangosi died instantly, and a police officer was injured.

First of all, our thoughts and sympathies are of course with Daud's family - he was married with four young children - at this difficult time.

Second, we should be in no doubt that this is a significant escalation of the current hot political climate in Tanzania. A line has been crossed. As the Media Council of Tanzania has noted, this is the first time a journalist in Tanzania has been killed while at work. It has significant implications for press freedom and human rights in Tanzania, particularly as it follows the beating of Dr Ulimboka and closure of MwanaHalisi newspaper.

It seems clear that the police were determined to clamp down forcefully on any Chadema activity in Iringa while the census is ongoing (though CCM, CUF and ADC events were allowed to continue elsewhere the very same day), to the extent that police killings were predicted beforehand. It seems clear that the level of police violence in this case was completely disproportionate.

There is no suggestion that Daud was doing anything improper. He was there as a journalist, with a legitimate right to be there and to report on Chadema's activities and the police's response. He was not there as a Chadema supporter at a rally, so he was not even breaching the police ban on political activities during the census period. (Though even if a Chadema activist who had been killed in this way, the police's actions would still have been disproportionate and wrong.)

Will the responsible police be held to account for this? The Regional Police Commander for Iringa, Michael Kamuhanda, who was himself present in Nyololo and apparently aware of what was happening, was previously the RPC in Ruvuma region when four protesters were shot dead by the police. The lack of police accountability for a series of killings since the 2010 elections suggests that the police now consider themselves to be above the law. 

And what will be the effect on the media? Will it make journalists and media houses more risk-averse, unwilling to criticise government for fear of reprisals? Or will it encourage them to take a stand and speak out? Writing on Jamii Forums, "Puppy" is worried:
MwanaHalisi newspaper was closed down, you stayed silent, Jerry [Muro] was arrested you stayed silent. And now our colleague, our fellow Tanzania has been killed, while at work, what will you do? Will you stay quiet and let the wind pass? Will you accept money to deceive the public? Will you turn Daudi's death into a way of soliciting bribes? Will you see that the time has come to stand for truth and rights? We citizens are waiting to see what your reaction will be, and whether it will be for the benefit of us and the country.*
Monday's newspapers (online at least) won't have given Puppy much confidence. The Citizen seems to have held back from reporting some of the details that seem pretty clear from other reports, though its sister paper, Mwananchi, goes a bit further. And both these papers at least have this as the lead story on their websites. But if you could find the Daily News article on the Mwangosi killing from the paper's website, you must have been looking very hard. It was there, but buried about as deep as possible, and the article itself was very short. And there was nothing at all on the IPP (Guardian / Nipashe) website, either in English or Swahili.

But caution while writing up a breaking news story before a Sunday evening deadline is understandable, and Tuesday's papers do a lot better. Mwananchi, The Citizen, The GuardianNipashe, The Daily News and HabariLeo all have prominent stories, though the quality varies. And Monday's ITV news should be particularly commended.

Most praiseworthy of all is the response of the journalists who were present in Nyololo, speaking openly about what they saw and sharing their photos quickly and publicly.

Also positive, the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), Tanzania Editor's Forum (TEF)Iringa Press Club (IPC) and even the World Association of Press Councils (WAPC) (which is currently meeting in Tanzania) have all issued strong statements condemning the police action.

Respected media commentator, Ndimara Tegambwage, has called for news organisations to publish the uncensored pictures, to show the true extent of what was done. His post is here, but again be warned that it includes very disturbing photos.
To share these pictures publicly is not a breach of ethics. No! To use the word "ethics" in this way is to create confusion, a misdirection in which the responsible people want to hide their abuses, inhumanity, and everything dirty so that citizens and the wider world can't know or take action.**
That's debatable, and Mwangosi's family in particular may see things differently. But surely Ndimara is right that the public should be fully informed about the brutality that took place. That's the first test of the media's response.

So far, in the mainstream press, a battle is waging between caution and full disclosure. If caution is allowed to win, the truth will lose, citizens of Tanzania will lose. In a case with so many witnesses, with supporting photos, now is not the time for caution.

Let me give the final word again to Ndimara, writing in today's Tanzania Daima:
Fear can kill all journalists. Courage can save many, and sharpen many others in this profession that is growing up fast. We should write. We should write. ***

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See also this collection of key sources on the case.

Update: This video includes additional eyewitness testimony from Francis Godwin, and extensive discussion between Hamza Kasongo, Irenei Kiria and Jesse Kwayu.

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* "Gazeti la MwanaHalisi limefungiwa mmekaa tu kimya, Jerry kashikishwa kesi mmekaa tu. Na sasa mwenzenu, Mtanzania mwenzetu kauwawa tena on field, mtafanyaje? Je Mtakaa kimya upepo upite? Je Mtakubali pesa muudanganye Umma? Je Mtageuza kifo cha Daudi mtaji wa kupokea na kuomba rushwa a.k.a vibahasha? Je sasa mtaona kama wakati umefika na kusimamia kweli na haki?? Sisi wananchi tunangoja kuona nini itakuwa reaction yenu, na je ina manufaa kwetu sisi na Taifa."

** "Kutoa picha hizi hadharani siyo kuvunja maadili. Hapana! Kutumia neno "maadili" katika hili ni kuotesha kichaka au  kujenga andaki ambamo wahusika wanataka kuficha ukatili, unyama na kila uchafu ili wananchi na dunia nzima wasiweze kujua na kuchukua hatua."

*** "Woga waweza kuua waandishi wote. Ujasiri waweza kusalimisha wengi na kuunda wengi wengine katika taaluma inayokua kwa kasi. Tuandike. Tuandike."