CPJ journalist says ex-NMG scribe was slapped in Tanzania detention
Following the dramatic arrest and interrogation by Tanzanian authorities, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Africa coordinator Angela Quintal recounted the nasty experience she went through with her colleague from Kenya, Muthoki Mumo, in Dar es Salaam.
The two were detained on November 7 and interrogated for several hours as the Tanzanian authorities searched their electronic devices, seized their passports and accused them of being in the country illegally, which the pair say is a false claim.
Ms Quintal, in an op-ed published in South Africa’s Daily Maverick, recounted their ordeal that led to global condemnation and their subsequent release.
Contrary to Tanzanian authorities’ assertion, Ms Quintal says they had a letter of invitation from the Media Council of Tanzania and had double checked the visa requirements.
The pair stayed in a hotel near Tanzania’s State House that is frequented by cabinet ministers, government officials and business people, and that is where they held several of their meetings and spotted intelligence agents lurking in the shadows.
Many of the interviews revealed the extent of the attacks on the Tanzanian press and government repression that manifested itself in anti-press laws that the government uses to prosecute those who insult the president and the stifling of bloggers with hefty and unaffordable registration fees.
“Many spoke about last year’s 21 November disappearance of freelance journalist Azory Gwanda, who was investigating extrajudicial killings in Kibiti. Gwanda has not been heard from since. Many journalists were frightened that they would suffer the same fate. Fear and self-censorship became a constant refrain,” says Quintal in the article.
A week into their visit, Ms Quintal says they were bundled into a minivan with several security agents and then driven aimlessly around Dar to disorient them.
The vehicle had its rear and side curtains closed. They were later taken to a house they said was in a suburb since they recognised a sign of the new offices of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition.
“We drove down a dirt road and entered the premises of what appeared to be a safe house, through a large gate. Several men in plain clothes stood in the front yard. At least one appeared to be armed with a rifle. Their animosity was palpable. We were ordered out of the vehicle into the house and taken upstairs for interrogation. The men specifically targeted Muthoki, because she was a young black female and Kenyan to boot,” says Ms Quintal.
Ms Quintal says Ms Mumo, a former Nation Media Group reporter, was questioned in Swahili, accused of betraying black people and asked whether I was really a South African. They tried to separate us, but failed, she says.
The intelligence officers forced them to share their passwords so that they could access their devices and content but Ms Mumo had wiped off data on her mobile phone in line with CPJ’s protocol.
The officers claimed they used Israeli technology and could retrieve their data but CPJ ensured her social media accounts were disabled after a tweet was sent by the Tanzanian authorities.
“We were alone at the mercy of a posse of men, some of whom were very abusive and hostile. The only woman agent had long gone home. We were taken back downstairs into a shabby sitting room and asked gendered questions. An intelligence agent was particularly abusive towards Muthoki. He even slapped and shoved her.”
Ms Quintal says she feared Ms Mumo would be sexually assaulted but her interrogator suddenly left the room and she was unharmed.
She says they remained calm outwardly during the aggressive encounter to avoid antagonising the men, instead used jokes and discusses regional and liberation politics with some of them.
The superior officer, who identified himself as Yusuf Mohamed, reappeared after a long absence. Ms Quintal says he was very hostile to Ms Mumo when he interrogated her but luckily left the room after receiving a phone call.
Mr Mohamed addressed Ms Quintal directly: “I did not know you were the Africa programme co-ordinator. You are so clever.”
It was then that he announced that they were free to go back to their hotel.
Ms Quintal says her Facebook SOS and tweet about the impeding arrest contributed to their release. She also credited CPJ’s statement as well as efforts by diplomats.
Kenyan and South African diplomats later joined the pair at the hotel following their released.