• Press Release

Tanzania: Charges against comedian for laughing must be thrown out

Popular Tanzanian comedian Idris Sultan is due to be arraigned in court a second time tomorrow, 9 July, to answer charges of “failure to register a SIM card previously owned by another person” and “failure to report change of ownership of a SIM card”. The charges were brought after he posted a video on social media of himself laughing at an old photo of President John Magufuli wearing an oversized suit.

Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena, said:

It is a travesty that Idris Sultan is being subjected to judicial persecution simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Laughing is not a crime.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International Director for East and Southern Africa

“These charges are politically motivated and must be immediately dropped. It is a travesty that Idris Sultan is being subjected to judicial persecution simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Laughing is not a crime.  Criminalizing one’s humour is a new low in Tanzania’s unrelenting clampdown on freedom of expression.

“It is evident that the Tanzanian authorities do not have a case against Idris Sultan and are simply out to harass him because his humour offended them. The court must throw out the trumped-up charges against him.”

Background

Idris Sultan was first presented before the Resident Magistrate for Kisutu in the capital Dar es Salaam on 9 June but the hearing did not take off because the prosecution failed to prepare for the preliminary hearing, a notorious practice that is frequently used to detain journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders in jail for months on end with no progression of their cases.

Idris Sultan was arrested on 19 May after the video clip of him laughing at a throwback photo of President John Magufuli went viral on social media. 

Criminalizing one’s humour is a new low in Tanzania’s unrelenting clampdown on freedom of expression.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

He was charged with SIM card-related offences under the repressive Electronic and Postal Communications Act 2010 (Sim Card Registration) Regulations 2020 and amended Electronic and Postal Communications Act 2010 on 27 May and released on a court bond of 15 million Tanzanian shillings (about 6,550 US dollars).

Since President Magufuli took office in November 2015, Tanzanian authorities have used a raft of repressive laws to silence real and perceived dissidents.