Tanzanian artist who burned photo of president gets jail sentence


A Tanzanian portrait artist accused of painting a photo of President Samia Suluhu Hassanhas been sentenced to two years in prison or a fine of $2,000 (£1,600) after being found guilty of cybercrime.

Shadrack Chaula was arrested for allegedly recording a video in which he was seen burning a photo of President Hassan and verbally insulting her.

The 24-year-old painter admitted to committing the crime, but did not defend his actions in court.

His arrest sparked a legal controversy, with some lawyers arguing that no law was broken by burning the photo.

In 2018, Tanzania passed strict laws against the spread of “fake news,” which critics see as a way to curb freedom of expression.

According to police, Chaula used “harsh words” against the president in the video he posted on his TikTok account on June 30 in the village of Ntokela, in the southwestern city of Mbeya.

Local police chief Benjamin Kuzaga told reporters on Tuesday that the artist’s offenses included burning the president’s portrait and spreading offensive content online.

“It is not the culture of the Mbeya people to insult our national leaders,” Kuzaga said.

Some lawyers said there is no law that criminalizes burning a photo of the president.

“Was the photo taken by a government photographer? Let them come out and explain their impact on society and the nation. Who can prove to the law that burning a photo is a crime?” lawyer Philip Mwakilima told Mwananchi newspaper.

But the act, considered unethical in Tanzania, sparked public outrage.

On Thursday, Judge Shamla Shehagilo found Chaula guilty of distributing videos on TikTok containing false information, in violation of the country’s cyber laws.

The court ruled that his actions amounted to cyberbullying and incitement.

Chaula remained silent when given the chance to defend himself against the charges, local media reported.

The prosecutor had asked the court to impose a severe sentence on him to deter others from “disrespecting” the president.

Some social media users have started an online campaign to raise money to pay Chaula’s fine so he can be released from prison.

The case has sparked debate in the country, with critics saying the punishment is too harsh and reflects the government’s crackdown on dissenters.

President Hassan, who came to power in 2021, has implemented reforms that have expanded political and social space.

However, the opposition and human rights groups have expressed concern that the country is slipping back into a backward-looking policy.

More Tanzania stories from the BBC:

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(Getty Images/BBC)

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