Maxence Melo, co-founder of popular Tanzanian whistle-blowing online platform JamiiForums, was arrested by police in Dar-es-Salaam on 13 December 2016 for allegedly declining to reveal the identities of whistleblowers who allegedly posted on sensitive information on his social media platform.
More peculiar is the fact that police arrested Maxence not for the crime he was accused of, but rather for his alleged failure to appear in court for a case filed against his company Jamii Media. What's worse is that nobody, not even his lawyer, had any knowledge of the case filed against Jamii Media at the High Court.
Maxence officially faces three charges - one for running JamiiForums on a domain not registered in Tanzania, and two for 'obstructing investigations'.
Paradoxically, it has emerged that he was allegedly not allowed to appear in court, as police continued to search his home. According to Benedict Alex Ishabakaki, Maxence's lawyer, the arrest is an intimidation tactic, especially given the ongoing case before the Tanzanian courts on the constitutionality of the country's Cybercrime Act of 2015.
JamiiForums has played a huge part in exposing graft in Tanzania. In 2008, information related to a corrupt energy deal, known as the 'Richmond scandal', was published on the site, effectively leading to the resignation of then Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, and the dissolution of his cabinet, in 2008.
Revelations posted on JamiiForums about another energy scandal in 2014, known as 'Tegeta escrow', also led to the sacking of several ministers in president Jakaya Kikwete's cabinet, including housing minister Anna Tibaijuka, a former under-secretary-general of the United Nations.
"Melo’s arrest extends the steady and worrying deterioration in media freedom and internet freedom since President Pombe Magufuli took the reins of power at the end of last year."Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Maxence's arrest could lead to a worrying trend, and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in a statement has come out to condemn the arrest as unjustifiable, urging Tanzanian authorities to immediately release Melo and henceforth cease any intimidation of Jamii Media (the company under which JamiiForums is run), its staff, and other social media users.
As CIPESA also notes, this is not the first incident of "unjustifiable arrest" during the tenure Tanzania's popular president, John Pombe Magufuli. In September 2016, a lecturer in Tanzania was charged by police for calling Magufuli a "bulldozer" as he continued to allegedly force his policies on Tanzanians, this charge brought the number of people under the Cyber Crimes Act to 10.
It appears that the Government of Tanzania is more willing to pursue those pointing out the state of graft in the country rather than fixing the graft instead. As a result, the likely outcome will be the prosecution of whistleblowers, even as the crimes they call attention to go unpunished.