Last Updated 12 November 2020

Established as a United Republic in 1964 following decades of colonial occupation, Tanzania is formed from mainland Tanzania (formerly known as Taganyika) and Zanzibar, and boasts an estimated population of more than 58 million inhabitants – among them up to 130 unrecognized indigenous ethnic groups.1https://www.iwgia.org/en/tanzania.html As of 2010, an estimated 61.4% of the population were Christian, 35.2% Muslim (predominantly Sunni), 1.8% followed traditional folk religions, while 1.4% of the population reported no affiliation. The majority of the population of Zanzibar are Muslim.2https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tz.html; https://www.britannica.com/place/Tanzania

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

Article 3 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania3https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/constitution.pdf declares that “The United Republic is a democratic, secular and socialist state which adheres to multi-party democracy.”

In principle, the Constitution protects freedom of expression (Article 18); freedom of conscience, faith and choice in matters of religion (Article 19); and freedom of association and assembly (Article 20). However, these provisions are not always upheld in practice.

Zanzibar has its own Constitution, courts and legislature within the United Republic’s Constitution.

In addition, the Constitution includes a Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG). This body is intended to be an independent government department, established as the national focal point institution for the promotion and protection of human rights and duties as well as good governance in Tanzania.

The government does not designate religious affiliation on passports or records of vital statistics, however, individuals may be asked to specify their religion in circumstances where it may be necessary to ensure that they receive treatment in accordance with their beliefs, such as medical care, or in prisons.4https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Registration of religious groups

Religious groups must register with the Registrar of Societies at the Ministry of Home Affairs on the mainland and with the Office of the Registrar General on Zanzibar. Fines for operating without registration were increased to a maximum of 10 million shillings (approx. US$4,400) in June 2019, following the amendment of the Societies Act.5Article 47 of the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No.3) Act, 2019: https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/images/upload/files/THE%20WRITTEN%20LAWS%20%28NO.3%29%20CERTIFICATE%20OF%20URGENCY%2011%20June%202019.pdf; https://rita.go.tz/eng/laws/History%20Laws/Societies%20Ordinance,1954%20(cap.%20337).pdf

Religion and politics

By law, political parties are banned from making the promotion of a particular religious doctrine a matter of policy or a basis for the approval of membership. As such, religious groups may not register as political parties.6https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Although not stipulated in the constitution, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents since its independence.7https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Further, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli declared that that prayers had ended coronavirus in the East African state. A staunch Catholic, he is known to invoke and praise God for governmental successes.8https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-52983563 During the COVID-19 pandemic, Magufuli is quoted as having said that “Coronavirus is a devil. It cannot live in the body of Christ” and encouraging religious services, sometimes without social distancing, despite the fact that most health experts say the risk of infections spreading is extremely high at such gatherings. Indeed, in June 2020, he stated that “The corona disease has been eliminated thanks to God.”9 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-52983563; https://www.voanews.com/science-health/coronavirus-outbreak/tanzanian-president-criticized-refusing-close-places-worship; https://www.wsj.com/articles/tanzanias-leader-urges-people-to-worship-in-throngs-against-coronavirus-11586347200

The president of Zanzibar appoints the chief Kadhi’s, who oversees the Kadhi’s courts and is recognized as the senior Islamic scholar responsible for interpreting the Quran. The Zanzibari president also appoints the mufti – the government’s official liaison to the Muslim community who nominally approves all Islamic activities and supervises mosques. On the mainland, the mufti is elected by the National Muslim Council of Tanzania (BAKWATA).10https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Education and children’s rights

While public schools may teach religious education, it is not part of the official national curriculum. Such classes are approved by the school administration, or parent-teacher associations, and are taught on an ad hoc basis by parents or volunteers. Students are assigned to religion classes, where they are offered, on the basis of their beliefs. Students may opt out of such classes.11https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Private schools may teach religion, although it is not required; private schools typically follow the national curriculum.

Girls’ access to education

Following pressure from human rights groups, the government amended its policy on barring pregnant girls from attending school in April 2020.12https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections. Pregnant girls had been barred from attending school since 2017, when President Magufuli reintroduced it. At the time, Tanzania had one of the highest adolescent pregnancy and birth rates in the world, with 21 percent of girls aged 15 to 19 having given birth. According to a report published in 2013 by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), more than 55,000 Tanzanian girls had been expelled from school over the last decade for being pregnant.13reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-girls/tanzanias-ban-on-pregnant-girls-in-school-violates-basic-rights-campaigners-idUSKBN19H1FE

Positive developments

In October 2019, Tanzania’s Court of Appeal upheld a 2016 High Court ruling directing the government to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 years for both girls and boys.14https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/25/victory-against-child-marriage-tanzania

Family, community and society

The human rights situation in Tanzania remains of serious concern. The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) of Tanzania, in its report on the human rights situation for 2019, notes a long list of human rights concerns including but not limited to: mob violence and killings, the rate of which is still high, including witch-craft related killings; sexual and physical violence against women and children; the ongoing application of death sentences despite a ruling against death penalty in Tanzania issued by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in November 2019; Arbitrary arrests and detentions, denial of bail, killings, abductions; restrictions on political parties; restrictive laws limiting the right to freedom of expression.15https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/attachments/1588571531.pdf

Religious courts

There are significant differences in the approach to religious courts between mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar. Secular laws govern Christians and Muslims in both criminal and civil cases on the mainland. However, in family-related matters involving inheritance, marriage, divorce and adoption, the law also recognizes customary practices, including religious practices. As such, individuals may choose to consult with religious leaders in place of reverting to a court.16https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

As a semi-autonomous region, with an independent president, court system and legislature, Kadhi’s courts are part of the national judicial system of Zanzibar and Islamic law is predominant in matters of personal status. Many Muslims of Zanzibar regard attempts by mainlanders to reform some aspects of the judicial system as an attack on Zanzibar’s legislative autonomy.17sharia-in-africa.net/pages/project/tanzania.php All cases tried in Zanzibar courts, except those involving Zanzibari constitutional matters and Sharia, may be appealed to the Union Court of Appeals on the mainland. Decisions of the Kadhi’s courts may be appealed to a special court consisting of the Zanzibar chief justice and five other sheikhs.18https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Birth control discouraged

In September 2018, Tanzanian president John Magufuli told a rally that he does not “see any need for birth control in Tanzania” and that people who make use of contraceptives are lazy as “they do not want to work hard and feed a large family”. Although Tanzanian women have the right to control their fertility and choose any method of contraception, access to services is limited.19theguardian.com/global-development/2018/sep/11/no-need-for-birth-control-tanzanian-presidents-views-cause-outrage

Witchcraft-related killings

In Tanzania, people living with albinism are mutilated and killed to facilitate illegal trade in their body parts, which are believed to bring good luck and wealth. This practice is even known to experience increased demand in the lead up to elections.20https://www.underthesamesun.com/content/issue#human-rights-abuse-and-attacks; https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/images/upload/files/Summary%20of%20the%20THRR2019.pdf

Additionally, routine assaults on so-called ‘witches’, often with deadly consequences, have been recorded in Tanzania. Elderly women have been killed and tortured, imprisoned, or exiled after being accused of practising witchcraft. Exact numbers of victims are unknown, as many instances go unreported and unmonitored by official bodies.21https://www.dw.com/en/witch-hunts-a-global-problem-in-the-21st-century/a-54495289; https://religionnews.com/2018/08/09/vigilante-killings-in-tanzania-spur-a-hunt-for-witch-hunters/; https://news.un.org/en/audio/2019/01/1031652; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

According to the Legal and Human Rights Center, the number of witchcraft-related killings are on the decline, owing to police action in regions such as Tabora and Shinyanga. 22https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/attachments/1588571531.pdf

LGBTQ+ discrimination

Members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to face violence, harassment and discrimination in their daily life. Under the 1998 Sexual Offenses Special Provisions Act,23https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b5098.html same-sex sexual relations are punishable with up to life imprisonment, and there are reports that authorities have subjected men perceived to be gay to forced anal examinations to obtain evidence in order to prosecute them prosecute them. In September 2019, the Deputy Home Affairs Minister called for the arrest of anyone “promoting” homosexuality without providing further details on what he meant by “promoting”.24https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/ The government subsequently distanced itself from his remarks.25https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections/

In April, the Registrar of NGOs announced that the government had cancelled the registration of six health organizations which worked on the rights of LGBTQ+ people.26https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Despite being enshrined in the Constitution, the government continued its crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression and association targeting journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition members. The crackdown intensified as the October 2020 presidential elections approached.27https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/28/tanzania-climate-fear-censorship-repression-mounts

Authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted government critics on trumped-up charges, and security forces were implicated in abductions and enforced disappearances. In addition, human rights defenders faced attacks, threats, unlawful detention, travel bans, and found themselves victims of smear campaigns to discredit them or their work.28https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/tanzania-and-zanzibar#e81181; https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/; https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections/; https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/attachments/1588571531.pdf; https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/07/free-speech-again-under-attack-tanzania

Criminalization of “blasphemy”

On the mainland, insults to religion and acts of uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings is criminalized under Article 125 and 129 of the Penal Code.29https://www.un.org/depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/TZA_penal_code.pdf; https://www.loc.gov/law/help/blasphemy/index.php#Tanzania

Article 125 reads:

“Any person who destroys, damages or defiles any place of insult to worship or any object which is held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of any class persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, is guilty of a misdemeanour.”

Article 129 states:

“Any person who, with the deliberate intention of wound- uttering ing the religious feelings of any person, utters any word, or makes any sound in the hearing of that person, or makes any gesture in the i0 [sic] wound right of that person, or places any object in the sight of that person, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”

No information is available regarding whether or to what extent this provision is enforced.30https://www.loc.gov/law/help/blasphemy/index.php#Tanzania

In Zanzibar, insults to religion of any class and acts of writing or uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings are punishable under Section XIV of the Penal Decree Act of 2004.31https://www.unodc.org/res/cld/document/criminal-procedure-act–2004-zanzibar_html/Penal_Decree_Act.pdf

Article 117 of which states:

“Any person who destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship or any object, which is held sacred by any class of persons with the intention thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, is guilty of a misdemeanour.”

Under Article 27, a convicted of this offense is punishable by imprisonment not exceeding two years and/or a fine.

In addition, the Article 121 states that:

“Any person who, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any other person, writes any word, or any person who, with the like intention, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of any other person or makes any gesture or places any object in the sight of any other person, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.”

Regressive legislative reform

The authorities continued to use repressive legislation with broad provisions that grant them sweeping powers to silence critics and stop media outlets, NGOs and political parties from operating.

In June 2019, the authorities used the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No.3) Act32https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/images/upload/files/THE%20WRITTEN%20LAWS%20%28NO.3%29%20CERTIFICATE%20OF%20URGENCY%2011%20June%202019.pdf to amend a range of legislation including the Nongovernmental Organizations Act, introducing sweeping powers and wide discretion to investigate, evaluate and ban NGOs from operating.33https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/tanzania-and-zanzibar#e81181; https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/; https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections/; https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/attachments/1588571531.pdf The government also amended the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act in order to narrow the criteria for legal standing of a challenge to a law or policy that is alleged to violate the Constitution’s bill of rights. In future, organizations will have to demonstrate that the violation affects them personally, drastically limiting the possibility of organizations to register appeals on behalf of victims and communities.34https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections/

On 21 November 20219, Tanzania withdrew from Article 34(6) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Protocol – the provision by which states accept the Court’s competence to receive cases from individuals and NGOs. Tanzania’s withdrawal followed in the wake of a string of decisions by the African Court in cases against the state, including its decision in Ally Rajabu and Others v. Republic of Tanzania, which struck down Tanzania’s mandatory death penalty. Tanzania is only the second State—after Rwanda—to withdraw from Article 34(6).35https://internationallaw.blog/2020/06/01/what-comes-after-withdrawing-the-african-court-of-human-and-peoples-rights-filling-the-gaps-to-bring-human-rights-based-claims-against-tanzania/amp/; https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/ The ruling will prevent other cases alleging the violation of international standards from being brought to the Court.

In June 2020, the government passed a bill granting immunity to Tanzania’s leaders for any action undertaken during their time in office.36https://africacenter.org/spotlight/once-a-beacon-of-hope-tanzanians-now-resist-growing-authoritarianism/

On 10 August 2020, the government passed the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2020,37https://www.tcra.go.tz/document/The%20Electronic%20and%20Postal%20Communications%20(Online%20Content)%20Regulations,%202020 which tighten state control over the internet and social media by criminalizing the posting of “rumours” or messages that “ridicule, abuse or harm the reputation, prestige or status of the United Republic of Tanzania”. In addition, the regulations also ban content on “the outbreak of deadly or contagious diseases in the country or elsewhere without the approval of the respective authorities,” which would include COVID-19. The regulations also serve to further restrict the media by banning local media outlets from broadcasting foreign content without government permission. It is expected that this will most affect local stations that air content from international media outlets such as BBC, RFI, and Deutsche Welle, amongst others.38https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections/

Highlighted cases

In July 2012, Eva Abdulla was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on charges of blasphemy after she was accused of having urinated on the Quran. Abdullah was acquitted on appeal and released in January 2013.39hrwf.org/images/reports/2013/forbprisoners.pdf


1 https://www.iwgia.org/en/tanzania.html
2 https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/tz.html; https://www.britannica.com/place/Tanzania
3 https://rsf.org/sites/default/files/constitution.pdf
4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 16, 18 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
5 Article 47 of the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No.3) Act, 2019: https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/images/upload/files/THE%20WRITTEN%20LAWS%20%28NO.3%29%20CERTIFICATE%20OF%20URGENCY%2011%20June%202019.pdf; https://rita.go.tz/eng/laws/History%20Laws/Societies%20Ordinance,1954%20(cap.%20337).pdf
8 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-52983563
9 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-52983563; https://www.voanews.com/science-health/coronavirus-outbreak/tanzanian-president-criticized-refusing-close-places-worship; https://www.wsj.com/articles/tanzanias-leader-urges-people-to-worship-in-throngs-against-coronavirus-11586347200
12 https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections
13 reuters.com/article/us-tanzania-girls/tanzanias-ban-on-pregnant-girls-in-school-violates-basic-rights-campaigners-idUSKBN19H1FE
14 https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/25/victory-against-child-marriage-tanzania
15, 22 https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/attachments/1588571531.pdf
17 sharia-in-africa.net/pages/project/tanzania.php
19 theguardian.com/global-development/2018/sep/11/no-need-for-birth-control-tanzanian-presidents-views-cause-outrage
20 https://www.underthesamesun.com/content/issue#human-rights-abuse-and-attacks; https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/images/upload/files/Summary%20of%20the%20THRR2019.pdf
21 https://www.dw.com/en/witch-hunts-a-global-problem-in-the-21st-century/a-54495289; https://religionnews.com/2018/08/09/vigilante-killings-in-tanzania-spur-a-hunt-for-witch-hunters/; https://news.un.org/en/audio/2019/01/1031652; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/TANZANIA-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
23 https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b5098.html
24, 26 https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/
25, 34, 38 https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections/
27 https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/28/tanzania-climate-fear-censorship-repression-mounts
28 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/tanzania-and-zanzibar#e81181; https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/; https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections/; https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/attachments/1588571531.pdf; https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/02/07/free-speech-again-under-attack-tanzania
29 https://www.un.org/depts/los/LEGISLATIONANDTREATIES/PDFFILES/TZA_penal_code.pdf; https://www.loc.gov/law/help/blasphemy/index.php#Tanzania
30 https://www.loc.gov/law/help/blasphemy/index.php#Tanzania
31 https://www.unodc.org/res/cld/document/criminal-procedure-act–2004-zanzibar_html/Penal_Decree_Act.pdf
32 https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/images/upload/files/THE%20WRITTEN%20LAWS%20%28NO.3%29%20CERTIFICATE%20OF%20URGENCY%2011%20June%202019.pdf
33 https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/tanzania-and-zanzibar#e81181; https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/; https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/09/08/authorities-embark-major-crackdown-expression-amid-covid-19-and-ahead-elections/; https://www.humanrights.or.tz/assets/attachments/1588571531.pdf
35 https://internationallaw.blog/2020/06/01/what-comes-after-withdrawing-the-african-court-of-human-and-peoples-rights-filling-the-gaps-to-bring-human-rights-based-claims-against-tanzania/amp/; https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/tanzania/report-tanzania/
36 https://africacenter.org/spotlight/once-a-beacon-of-hope-tanzanians-now-resist-growing-authoritarianism/
37 https://www.tcra.go.tz/document/The%20Electronic%20and%20Postal%20Communications%20(Online%20Content)%20Regulations,%202020
39 hrwf.org/images/reports/2013/forbprisoners.pdf

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