East Africa

Tanzanian Artist Jailed for Insulting President

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

A Tanzanian court has sentenced 24-year-old portrait artist Shadrack Chaula to two years in prison or a $2,000 (£1,600) fine for cybercrime.

Shadrack Chaula (Photo: Mwananchi)

The conviction followed a viral TikTok video in which Chaula burned a photo of President Samia Suluhu Hassan while making derogatory remarks. This incident has sparked widespread debate and controversy within Tanzania.

Chaula admitted his actions in court but offered no defence. His arrest and subsequent trial have raised significant legal questions, with some lawyers arguing that burning a photo does not constitute a crime under Tanzanian law. Tanzania’s stringent laws against the spread of “fake news,” enacted in 2018, have drawn criticism for suppressing freedom of expression. Local authorities stated that Chaula used “strong words” against President Hassan in the video recorded in Ntokela village, Mbeya.

Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan [AFP]

Benjamin Kuzaga, the local police chief, highlighted that Chaula’s offences included burning the president’s portrait and disseminating offensive content online. He emphasized, “It is not the culture of Mbeya people to insult our national leaders.” However, lawyer Philip Mwakilima challenged the legality of the charges, questioning the law’s interpretation regarding the act of burning a picture.

Despite these legal arguments, the act of burning the president’s photo, considered highly unethical in Tanzania, has caused public outrage. Magistrate Shamla Shehagilo found Chaula guilty of distributing videos that contained false information, violating the country’s cyber laws. The court ruled that his actions amounted to cyber harassment and incitement. The prosecutor urged the court to impose a severe penalty to deter others from “disrespecting” the president.

Shadrack Chaula arrested (Photo: Mwananchi)

This case has sparked a national debate, with critics arguing that the sentence is excessively harsh and also reflects the government’s broader crackdown on dissent. Although President Hassan has implemented reforms to open up political and civic spaces since assuming office in 2021, concerns persist about restrictive policies.

In response to Chaula’s imprisonment, a group of social media users launched an online campaign to raise money to pay his fine. Led by activist Godlistern Malisa, the campaign successfully collected Sh5.6 million ($2,000) by Friday. Advocate Peter Kibatala, who represents Chaula, announced plans to file an appeal at the High Court of Tanzania, Mbeya registry, further seeking to expunge Chaula’s criminal records and overturn his conviction.

Shadrack Chaula was convicted of sharing false information on TikTok. (Photo: Mwananchi.)

Advocate Kibatala expressed, “After securing his release, we will proceed with an appeal to clear his criminal record. Shadrack is a young man with aspirations both locally and internationally, and preserving his future is paramount.” He noted that influential stakeholders played a crucial role in mobilizing public support and organizing contributions for Chaula’s fine.

As this case continues to unfold, it further highlights the ongoing tension between the government’s efforts to maintain order and the publics demand for greater freedom of expression. Chaula’s situation has become a focal point in the larger debate over individual rights and governmental authority in Tanzania.


Derrick Chidumebi is a creative writer and growth marketer hailing from Lagos, Nigeria. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Industrial Chemistry from Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria, and is the founder of The Eko Place, a media/marketing agency based in Lagos, Nigeria. Currently, he serves as a writer for Art Network Africa.

Write A Comment