- The High Court of Tanzania, on the island of Zanzibar, today delivered its ruling on a long awaited case launched by the 'Dira' newspaper management team to challenge the act used to close the only independent weekly in the Isles. According to sources from Zanzibar, the paper will remain closed because the High Court discovered that 'Dira violated registration procedures.
- The result is zero-zero, says Ally Saleh, the newspaper's sports editor, who is also the BBC's Kiswahili correspondent in Zanzibar. Mr Saleh told this to the Tanzania chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Tanzania) in a telephone interview soon after the High Court's ruling.
According to Mr Saleh, High Court Judge Mshibe Ali Bakari indicated that both 'Dira' and the autonomous Zanzibari government had violated rules and laws in the operation and subsequent closure of the newspaper. Both parties were thus criticised by the Court.
While the Zanzibari Minister responsible for information exercised too much power to close the paper, the independent publication operated illegally in Zanzibar as it violated registration procedures, the court reportedly stated.
Mr Saleh said that the newspaper's management committee will meet to discuss the possibility of taking the case to the Court of Appeal because they are confident that their publication was legally registered and was operating according to the rules and principles guiding newspapers in the semi-autonomous island.
- The issue of registration has never been raised during our operation, Mr Saleh explained. "It was raised today by the High Court. We must sit down and chart a way forward to take the matter to the Court of Appeal," he added.
The weekly newspaper is challenging the government-imposed closure, which was carried out in 2003 based on allegations that the paper had contravened journalism ethics. The Zanzibari High however Court did not criticise 'Dira' for unethical journalism.
The publication, under its managing editor, Ali Mohamed Nabwa, who is a former press secretary to the Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania, the late Omar Ali Juma, argued that the closure was aimed at stopping the newspaper from disseminating information to the public. It has been argued that the government had not acted fairly on the matter and, in fact, the action had political motives.
The dispute around 'Dira' started on 24 November 2003, when the Zanzibari government suspended the independent weekly, which is published by the Zanzibar International Media Company (ZIMCO). The government alleged that the newspaper had violated "professional ethics".
Salum Juma Othman, Zanzibar's Minister of State in the Chief Minister's Office, said that, under the suspension, the company was not allowed to publish, circulate or republish any previous issues of the newspaper in any part of the United Republic of Tanzania until further notice.
On 28 November 2003, however, the Zanzibari government banned 'Dira' for allegedly continuing to violate "professional ethics". Minister Othman said that the government had decided to ban the newspaper because it had allegedly been fomenting hatred between the government and the public.
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