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Tanzanian artist who burnt president’s picture freed


A young Tanzanian portrait artist who was convicted last week of cybercrimes has been released from prison after social media users raised more than $2,000 (£1,600) to pay his fine.

Shadrack Chaula was ordered by a court to pay the fine or face two years in prison after he admitted recording a video that went viral on social media, showing him burning a picture of President Samia Suluhu Hassan while insulting her.

“Thank you very much fellow Tanzanians for coming to my rescue,” Mr Chaula told journalists shortly after his release on Monday.

The case sparked an uproar in the country, with some lawyers saying the 24-year-old painter did not break any law by burning the picture.

Police said they arrested him for using “strong words” against President Samia in the TikTok video he recorded in Ntokela village near the southwestern city of Mbeya.

When he appeared in court last Thursday, Mr Chaula was charged with spreading false information about the president, contravening the country’s cybercrime laws.

The court ruled that his actions constituted cyber harassment and incitement.

Mr Chaula admitted to committing the crime.

Critics said the sentence was too harsh but the prosecution had pushed for a more severe penalty, saying this was necessary to deter others from “disrespecting” the president.

In 2018, Tanzania enacted tough laws against the spread of “fake news”, which critics saw as a move to curb freedom of expression.

Users of X, formerly Twitter, raised $2,100 in six hours, according to activist Godlisten Malisa, who coordinated the fund-raising.

Mr Chaula was given the remaining $100 to support his artwork, he said.

In an Instagram post, Mr Malisa added that the contributions were a “lesson” for the government.

Despite the fact that many Tanzanians were “burdened” by the high cost of living, they came to Mr Chaula’s aid, he said.

Lawyer Peter Kibatala said social media users did not only secure Mr Chaula’s release but also freedom of expression.

After she came to power in 2021, President Samia introduced reforms to give political parties and civic groups more freedom.

But opposition and rights groups have expressed concern that the government is sliding back to more repressive ways.