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Tanzanian portrait artist, Shadrack Chaula has been sentenced to two years in prison for burning a photo of President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

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A Tanzanian portrait artist accused of setting fire to a photograph of President Samia Suluhu Hassan, has been sentenced to either two years in prison or a fine of $2,000 (£1,600) after being convicted of cybercrimes.

Shadrack Chaula was detained for allegedly creating a viral video where he burns a picture of President Hassan while verbally attacking her.

The 24-year-old painter admitted to the offence and did not defend his actions in court.

His detention led to legal debates, with some attorneys arguing that burning the picture did not violate any laws.

In 2018, Tanzania passed strict regulations against spreading “fake news,” which critics believe are meant to suppress freedom of speech.

Police reported that Chaula used “strong language” against the president in a video he posted on TikTok on June 30 in Ntokela village, near the city of Mbeya in the southwest.

Local police chief Benjamin Kuzaga told journalists on Tuesday that the artist’s crimes included burning the president’s portrait and sharing offensive content online.

“It is not the tradition of Mbeya residents to insult our national leaders,” Kuzaga stated.

Some lawyers claimed there is no legislation that makes burning a picture of the president illegal.

“Was the photograph taken by a government photographer? They should publicly explain its societal and national impact. Who can show the law that makes burning a picture an offence?” Lawyer Philip Mwakilima told the Mwananchi newspaper.

Nevertheless, the act, considered unethical in Tanzania, caused public uproar.

On Thursday, magistrate Shamla Shehagilo found Chaula guilty of sharing videos on TikTok that contained false information, thus violating the country’s cyber laws.

The court determined that his actions amounted to cyber-harassment and incitement.

Local media reported that Chaula remained silent when given the opportunity to defend himself against the accusations.

The prosecutor urged the court to impose a severe punishment to discourage others from “disrespecting” the president.

Some social media users have initiated an online campaign to collect funds to pay Chaula’s fine so he can avoid imprisonment.

The case has sparked a national debate, with critics arguing that the sentence is excessively harsh and indicative of the government’s efforts to suppress dissent.

President Hassan, who took office in 2021, has implemented reforms that have increased political and civic freedoms.

However, opposition parties and human rights organisations have expressed concerns that the country may be reverting to repressive policies.

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