Comedian Arrested for Cybercrime over Face Swap
Tanzanian comedian Idris Sultan has been arrested after posting a face-swap photo on social media involving his president.
Earlier this month, Sultan shared images of himself and of Tanzanian president John Pombe Magufuli in which the faces of each subject had been swapped over. One of the pictures shows Sultan posing on a presidential chair with the national seal, while the other shows the president’s face on the comedian’s body.
Sultan’s lawyer, Benedict Ishabakaki, said the comedian and radio show host was summoned by police on May 19 and questioned over a possible violation of a law against cyberbullying.
According to news agency the AFP, Sultan was subsequently charged with a lesser offense related to using a SIM card registered in someone else’s name.
Sultan, a former show winner of the TV series Big Brother Africa, was released from police custody on May 27 after posting bail of 15 million Tanzanian shillings (more than $6,000).
His hearing was attended by his sister and vocalist Lulu Diva and by the singer Lady Jay Dee.
The comedian’s release comes the day after opposition leaders and activists launched a Twitter campaign to demand that the case against Sultan be dismissed.
Sultan is no stranger to Tanzania’s legal system. In October last year, the comedian was arrested for photoshopping President Magufuli’s face onto a picture of himself and sharing it with his 5 million followers on social media.
The comedian said that he had shared the photo in good faith as a way to celebrate the president’s birthday on October 29.
Sultan said: “I had no ill intentions; I was just wishing the president a happy birthday. If the president did not like my birthday message, I apologize.”
Following his foray into photoshopping, Sultan was accused of violating Tanzania’s Cybercrimes Act, which forbids the use of a computer to impersonate someone else. After being questioned over his alleged intent to “coerce, intimidate, harass or cause emotional distress,” the comedian was eventually released without charge.
Magufuli took office in 2015 as a corruption-fighting “man of the people” but has been criticized for his authoritarian leadership style. According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, there is a “shrinking space for freedom of expression” in Tanzania.
Sultan’s latest case is due to be heard in court on June 9.