On Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Tanzanian journalist Maxence Melo Mubyazi as one of five recipients of the 2019 International Press Freedom Award.
“Giving this award to Melo also shines a light on the worrying trend in sub-Saharan Africa of governments using overly broad cybercrime laws to crack down on free speech online,” the CJP said.
Melo is the owner and co-founder of JamiiForums – fondly sometimes referred to the “Swahili Wikileaks” — a website he founded in 2006 that hosts frank online debates about politics, corruption and governance, and which has evolved into both a source of breaking news and a secure whistleblowing platform.
“I’m happy that my efforts and my team’s efforts are recognised despite the state pressure we are facing since 2008. It’s something encouraging and I believe among hundreds of thousands of journalists being among the winners for the year 2019 it’s something huge,” Melo said.
For its efforts to keep the Tanzanian government in check, Melo and JamiiForums have both been harassed and persecuted by the government. According to this profile by Abdi Latif Dahir in Quartz, Melo appeared in court at least 51 times in 2017 alone to defend his work.
In a statement, Jamii Forums welcomed the award and said: “[Melo] has been at the forefront of fighting for and protection of online freedom of expression and digital privacy in Tanzania. He has used JamiiForums.com to provide a secure, credible and ...
most reliable ... whistle-blowing platform in Tanzania. [Melo] has played an enormous role in making JamiiForums [a] platform to revolutionise online and mainstream media through freedom of expression, pushing for political accountability, transparency and good governance.”
Melo’s award comes against the backdrop of an increased threat to press freedom and freedom of expression in Tanzania, where the government has enacted harsh laws to regulate both traditional media and digital platforms (including the notorious 2018 Electronic and Postal Communications Act, which requires all bloggers to pay a $900 registration fee for the privilege of being able to post content online).
This year’s other International Press Freedom Award winners were: Patrícia Campos Mello, a Brazilian reporter and columnist; Neha Dixit, a freelance journalist in India, who faced legal and physical threats, as well as online harassment, for reporting on alleged wrongdoing by rightwing nationalist groups; and Lucía Pineda Ubau and Miguel Mora, from Nicaragua’s 100% Noticias, who were imprisoned in December 2018 for their coverage of ongoing protests in the country.