The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) launched the #WhereIsAzory campaign to bring attention to the case of the Tanzanian freelance journalist, Azory Gwanda, as today marks his 500th day in captivity.
Gwanda, who wrote for the privately-owned Mwananchi and The Citizen newspapers, went missing on November 21, 2017. His disappearance comes amid declining press freedom in the country, including government-ordered media shutdowns, fines, restrictive regulations, and arbitrary arrests of journalists.
His wife, Anna Pinoni, reported seeing Gwanda leave their farm in Tanzania’s coast region with unidentified men in a white Land Cruiser, according to CPJ research. Gwanda told his wife he was taking an emergency trip and would return the next day. She has not seen him since.
According to the Associated Press, Tanzanian officials initially promised to investigate Gwanda’s disappearance, but have provided no substantive updates in the year since the journalist went missing. In July 2018, the Home Affairs Minister, Kangi Lugola, was dismissive when questioned about Gwanda’s disappearance, and days later suggested he might have run off because of family problems, according to reports by The Citizen.
The #WhereIsAzory campaign intends to raise awareness on Mr Gwanda’s disappearance and will call on Tanzanian authorities to carry out a credible investigation and publicly account for his fate. Supporters can participate by sharing the hashtags #WhereIsAzory and #MrudisheniAzory on social media.
“Azory Gwanda is a freelance journalist reporting about his community and he must not become just another statistic,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Through this campaign, we want to ensure that Gwanda’s case becomes a priority for the Tanzanian authorities and that we get much-needed answers about what really happened to him. Until that time, Tanzanian journalists will not feel safe.”
In an interview with Mwananchi newspaper, Ms Pinoni said she believed her husband’s disappearance might be linked to his work reporting on a series of mysterious killings in Tanzania’s Coast region, a view shared by others with whom CPJ has spoken.
In Tanzania, journalists and media outlets are wary of retaliation if they are too vocal about Mr Gwanda’s case. When two CPJ representatives were detained overnight and interrogated in Tanzania last year, they were specifically asked about their interest in Mr Gwanda.
Globally, the harassment and illegal arrests of journalists have become the new normal. These methods have been employed by oppressive regimes to intentionally stop citizens from being informed.