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Journalist refutes government charge of illegal citizenship

(MISA/IFEX) - Ali Nabwa, editor of the weekly newspaper "Dira", published in the semi-autonomous state of Zanzibar, has vehemently denied government charges that he is not a citizen of Tanzania and that he has been living illegally in the country since 1993.

At a 25 March 2003 press conference, Nabwa told journalists the Zanzibar government's accusation was a malicious response to his newspaper's attempts to hold public leaders accountable. He said the decision to strip him of citizenship could be attributed largely to his newspaper's continuous criticism of Zanzibar's government (Serikali ya Mapinduzi Zanzibar, SMZ), which he claimed was "failing to adhere to principles of good governance."

Nabwa also attributed the Zanzibar government's anger partly to his refusal to join it after he completed his contract with the Union government as press secretary and personal assistant to the former vice-president, the late Omar Ali Juma. "When I started this paper, SMZ leaders started summoning me frequently to the office of the chief minister, where they threatened to close the newspaper, saying it was too critical of the government," he stated.

Nabwa said he intended to initiate court proceedings to counter the government's action. He admitted to being in possession of a Comoro passport, but explained that he obtained it in accordance with directives of the then director of intelligence, due to his professional status at the time.

"Dira" sports and features editor Ali Saleh, who is also a correspondent for the BBC's Kiswahili service in Zanzibar, told MISA-Tanzania that the SMZ is well aware of the reasons why Nabwa was issued with a Comoro passport. According to Saleh, the citizenship issue was being used to justify government attempts to censor the newspaper.

Background Information

Nabwa was stripped of his Tanzanian citizenship on 19 March and directed to reapply for it if he wished to do so.

On 25 March, the state-run "Daily News" newspaper reported that a letter signed by Zanzibar Assistant Director of Immigration Services Ali Khamis Ali said Nabwa had been staying in the country illegally, since his passport, issued in Zanzibar on 7 December 1993, had been issued illegally. Nabwa was given until 18 June to surrender his passport to the Immigration Department.

The Immigration Department explained in a 19 March letter that Nabwa lost his right to Tanzanian citizenship by assuming Comoro citizenship as an adult.

The letter quoted Immigration Act Number 1995, Section (4)(a), which stipulates that "a citizen of the United Republic of Tanzania shall cease to be a citizen if having attained the age of 18, he acquired the citizenship of some country other than the United Republic of Tanzania by a voluntary act other than marriage".

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