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Tanzanian Artist Sentenced For Burning President’s Photo

A TANZANIAN portrait artist, Shadrack Chaula, has been sentenced to two years in prison or a fine of $2,000 after being found guilty of cybercrimes. Chaula, 24, was accused of burning a photo of President Samia Suluhu Hassan and verbally insulting her in a viral video.

Chaula admitted to the crime and did not defend his actions in court, leading to his conviction. His arrest has sparked legal controversy, with some lawyers arguing that no law was broken by burning the picture. Social media users have started an online campaign to raise money to pay Chaula’s fine and secure his release from jail.


The case has drawn significant attention due to Tanzania’s tough laws against the spread of ‘fake news,’ enacted in 2018, which critics argue are used to curb freedom of expression. Police reported that Chaula used ‘strong words’ against the president in the video, which was posted on his TikTok account on June 30 in Ntokela village, Mbeya.

Local police chief Benjamin Kuzaga stated that Chaula’s offences included burning the president’s portrait and disseminating offensive content online. ‘It is not the culture of Mbeya people to insult our national leaders,’ BBC reported Kuzaga as saying.

Despite some lawyers’ claims that there is no law criminalising the burning of a president’s photo, the act sparked public outrage in Tanzania. Magistrate Shamla Shehagilo found Chaula guilty of distributing videos containing false information in violation of the country’s cyber laws, ruling that his actions constituted cyber-harassment and incitement.

During the trial, Chaula remained silent when given the opportunity to defend himself. The prosecutor urged the court to impose a harsh penalty to deter others from ‘disrespecting’ the president.

The case has ignited a national debate, with critics arguing that the sentence is excessively harsh and reflects the government’s crackdown on dissent. President Hassan, who took office in 2021, has introduced reforms to open up political and civic spaces, but opposition groups and rights activists fear the country may be reverting to repressive policies.

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