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Tanzanian Artist Freed After Social media Raises Funds For Fine

IN a remarkable show of support, social media users rallied to raise over $2,000 to secure the release of Shadrack Chaula, a young Tanzanian portrait artist convicted of cybercrimes. Chaula was ordered by the court to pay the fine or face two years in prison after he admitted to recording and sharing a viral video in which he burned a picture of President Samia Suluhu Hassan while insulting her.

Upon his release on Monday, Chaula expressed his gratitude: ‘Thank you very much, fellow Tanzanians, for coming to my rescue,’ he told journalists.

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The incident stirred significant controversy in Tanzania, with some legal experts arguing that the 24-year-old artist did not violate any law by burning the picture. According to police, Chaula was detained for using ‘strong words’ against President Samia in the TikTok video recorded in Ntokela village, near the south-western city of Mbeya.

Charged with spreading false information about the president and violating the country’s cybercrime laws, Chaula appeared in court last Thursday. The court found his actions constituted cyber-harassment and incitement, leading to his conviction. Despite Chaula admitting to the crime, critics argued the sentence was overly harsh. The prosecution, however, pushed for a severe penalty, citing the need to deter similar acts of ‘disrespect’ towards the president.

In response to the ruling, social media users on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter, mobilised quickly, raising $2,100 in just six hours. Activist Godlisten Malisa, who coordinated the fundraising effort, confirmed the rapid collection of the required amount. In addition to paying the fine, Chaula received an extra $100 to support his artwork.

In an Instagram post, Malisa emphasised that the contributions were a ‘lesson’ for the government, showcasing the solidarity of Tanzanians despite the high cost of living. Lawyer Peter Kibatala added that the social media campaign not only secured Chaula’s release but also defended freedom of expression in the country.

President Samia, who came to power in 2021, initially introduced reforms to grant more freedom to political parties and civic groups. However, opposition and rights groups have raised concerns that the government is reverting to more repressive measures.

The case of Shadrack Chaula has spotlighted ongoing tensions between the government’s strict regulations and the public’s desire for greater freedom of expression. As Tanzania continues to navigate these challenges, the collective action seen in Chaula’s case may signal a growing public resistance to restrictive policies.

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