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Maxence M. Melo

HRD & Founder &

Maxence M. Melo is a human rights defender working on issues of freedom of expression, digital security, and freedom of information. He is the founder and owner of the blogging site, Jamii Forums, which hosts blogs and reports on breaking news. Jamii Forums was founded as a space in which Tanzanian citizens could engage in discussions about social, political, and economic issues anonymously. This tenet of Jamii Forums’ mission was a step to promote freedom of expression in Tanzania and to ensure the privacy of citizens who sought to engage in online discussion of current issues. Additionally, Jamii Forums seeks to encourage citizen journalists to report on issues, offering an alternative to mainstream news outlets. Since the establishment of Jamii Forums in 2006, the blog site has stood by its commitment to digital privacy and confidentiality, despite reports that Tanzanian authorities repeatedly requested information about its anonymous contributors.

HRDs in Tanzania work in a relatively complex environment despite a prevailing level of stability that the country enjoys in comparison to neighbouring countries in the African Great Lakes region. Subtle forms of threats to human rights defenders are regularly recorded, particularly during electoral seasons. Occasional physical attacks against prominent human rights defenders have been noted in the past, and were never followed with meaningful investigations.

Human rights defenders working in peripheral areas far away from Dar Es Salaam, the capital city, face particular challenges ranging from constant police harassment, poor access to donor funding and low capacity to articulate a coherent advocacy strategy. Women human rights defenders operating in these areas often face backlash from society for documenting and advocating on issues such as domestic violence or early marriage. A number of women human rights defenders working in the coastal Swahili areas, including in the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar where Islam is predominant, have at times been accused of blasphemy.