Diplomats question Tanzania newspaper suspension

Tanzanian newspaper "The Citizen" has been suspended for a week after officials accused it of falsely reporting currency exchanges (AFP Photo/STRINGER) (AFP/File)

Nairobi (AFP) - Diplomats in Tanzania from eight European nations on Friday questioned the decision to impose a week-long closure on a key newspaper after officials accused it of falsely reporting currency exchange rates.

The action against The Citizen newspaper follows growing complaints by opposition supporters and civil society groups at what they say are moves to stifle dissent and create obstacles for journalists and rights activists.

"Usually, I start the day by reading a number of newspapers, including The Citizen," British High Commissioner to Tanzania Sarah Cooke wrote on Twitter.

"Unfortunately, it has been banned in Tanzania for seven days. Is this sanction proportionate to the offence purportedly committed?"

Similar messages were posted by ambassadors from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden, in a rare joint public challenge to the authorities.

"Media plays a crucial role in public debate," the Irish embassy wrote, saying it was "concerned by this week's decision to suspend The Citizen."

The Citizen was accused of relaying false information in a recent article on the devaluation of Tanzanian shilling.

It reported the US dollar was selling at 2,415 Tanzanian shillings, compared to 2,300 at the central bank's rate, according to surveys carried out in foreign exchange bureaus and banks.

The Statistics Act of 2017 bans any publication of statistical information contrary to the official figures, with possible jail terms for those who do.

President John Magufuli is facing growing criticism from the opposition as well as from civil society groups and international donors at what they say are crackdowns on human rights.

Media rights group, Reporters Without Borders, said that the suspension "illustrates the continuous decline in the of freedom of the media in Tanzania since President John Magufuli came to power."

The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), a key Tanzanian human rights organisation, said the suspension was a "continuation of the crackdown on the freedom of expression and the freedom of the press in Tanzania."