Tanzanian artist who burned photo of president released


A young portrait artist from Tanzania who was convicted of cybercrime last week has been released from prison after social media users raised more than $2,000 (£1,600) to pay his fine.

Shadrack Chaula was ordered by a court to pay the fine or face two years in prison after he admitted to recording a video that went viral on social media in which he burned a photo of the president Samia Suluhu Hassan while he insulted her.

“Thank you very much, fellow Tanzanians, for coming to my aid,” Chaula told reporters shortly after his release on Monday.

The case caused outrage in the country, with some lawyers arguing that the 24-year-old painter had broken no law by burning the painting.

According to police, he was arrested for using “harsh words” against President Samia in the TikTok video he recorded in the village of Ntokela, near the southwestern town of Mbeya.

When he appeared in court last Thursday, Mr Chaula was accused of spreading false information about the president, in violation of the country’s cybercrime law.

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

Mr Chaula admitted to committing the crime.

Critics called the sentence too harsh, but the Public Prosecution Service had pushed for a tougher sentence, saying it was necessary to deter others from “disrespecting” the president.

In 2018, Tanzania introduced strict laws against the spread of “fake news,” in a move critics saw as an attempt to curb freedom of expression.

According to activist Godlisten Malisa, who coordinated the fundraiser, users of X, formerly Twitter, raised $2,100 in six hours.

Mr. Chaula was given the remaining $100 to support his artwork, he said.

In a post on Instagram, Mr Malisa added that the contributions were a “lesson” for the government.

Despite the fact that many Tanzanians were ‘burdened’ by the high cost of living, they came to Mr Chaula’s aid, he said.

Lawyer Peter Kibatala said social media users not only secured Mr Chaula’s release but also freedom of expression.

After coming to power in 2021, President Samia introduced reforms to give political parties and civil society groups more freedom.

However, opposition and human rights groups are concerned that the government is reverting to repressive measures.

More Tanzania stories from the BBC:

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(Getty Images/BBC)

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