Tanzanian President John Magufuli ordered the immediate release of a popular local musician on Monday, a day after he was arrested for allegedly mocking the government in a song.

Police had accused Ney wa Mitego of showing disrespect for the presidency in his newly-released Swahili rap song entitled Wapo.     The lyrics of the song do not mention Magufuli by name but question the infringement of freedom of speech in Tanzania. It also criticises the leadership of the country.

Magufuli, nicknamed “the bulldozer” for his strict leadership style, has won some praise from Western donors for anti-corruption drives and cutting wasteful government spending since coming to power in November 2015.

But opponents accuse him of becoming increasingly authoritarian, undermining democracy by curbing political activity and cracking down on dissent.

More than 10 people, including university students, have been charged in different court cases over the past few months for insulting the president via social networking platforms, such as WhatsApp.

Insulting the president was made a criminal offence in Tanzania under a cybercrimes law passed in 2015, punishable by up to three years in jail, a fine of around $3,000, or both.

The government described the arrest of the musician and the banning of his song by a state-run arts council as “drastic measures”.


Tanzania’s information minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, told journalists the president wanted wa Mitego to rework the song .    “It should be improved to also talk about other evils in society, such as tax evasion and drug trafficking,” the minister quoted the president as saying to him.

Police confirmed that the musician was released on Monday without charge.

Activists and opposition leaders had criticised the arrest.

“The president has no right to authorise a song by an artiste or not to. It was wrong to arrest Ney and the president’s order is meaningless too,” opposition leader Zitto Kabwe said via Twitter.

(Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Gareth Jones)