You Could Go to Jail for Tweeting This in Tanzania

By Maraya Cornell

Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete has signed into law a controversial “Cybercrimes Act,” it was announced Friday. Critics say the law gives police broad powers of search and seizure and makes it a crime to share information online that the government deems “false” or “misleading.”

One piece of information that would likely fall into the criminal category is the claim that elephant numbers in one of Tanzania’s most important elephant strongholds, the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem, plummeted by 60 percent last year, from 20,000 to 8,200.

The figures were allegedly leaked to British News Network ITV by someone with access to results from the Great Elephant Census, the largest pan-African aerial survey of savanna elephants since the 1970s.

A statement by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) says that the leaked numbers “confirm the scale of Tanzania’s elephant crisis,” which is widely regarded as the continent’s worst.

More elephants are killed for ivory in Tanzania than in any other country in Africa, according to an EIA report, “Vanishing Point—Criminality, Corruption and the Devastation of Tanzania’s Elephants,” released last November.

Criminal Information

Not everyone believes the census figures for the Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystem were ready to be published. In a press release, Tanzania National Parks said it “would like to categorically deny” ITV’s report.

People contacted from organizations involved in the census expressed frustration that the data had been leaked ahead of an official release.

Whether or not the elephant numbers should have been leaked, and whether or not the figures are accurate, Tweeting or otherwise posting about them online in Tanzania could be grounds for arrest and unlimited imprisonment under the Cybercrimes Act—or a February draft of it, since the final text of the bill still hasn’t been made publicly available.

“Anyone who uses social media” is “vulnerable,” said Ben Taylor, an —> Read More