Tanzania In New Crackdown On Opposition Party

Tanzania Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe flashes his fingers as he arrives at the court.

 

 

Tanzanian police arrested several members of the country’s main opposition Chadema party on Saturday, the latest crackdown on a group pushing for constitutional reform in the East African nation.

The action follows the detention of Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe on terrorism charges that his party have branded a bid by President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s government to muzzle the opposition.

Police detained nine party members and raided its offices in the northern lakeside town of Musoma to block a planned symposium by the youth wing on constitutional change, Chadema said.

“We strongly condemn this blatant violation of the constitution and rule of law, sowing the seeds of hatred, discrimination and discord within communities,” it said in a statement, protesting at the “suppression of democratic rights” by police and other security forces.

Mbowe has been behind bars since July 21 when he was arrested along with a number of other senior Chadema officials hours before they were to hold a similar forum on calls for a new constitution.

The 59-year-old has been charged with terrorism financing and conspiracy in a case that the opposition says shows Hassan is continuing the oppressive rule of her late predecessor John Magufuli.

He is due to appear at the High Court again on Monday, although his trial has been held up by legal wrangling, with his defence team most recently challenging the legality of the charge sheet.

Referring to Saturday’s arrests, Longinus Tibishibwamu, police chief in the Mara region of which Musoma is the capital, said the force cannot allow such events to take place.

“The president has instructed that people should now focus on economic development… So such conferences will have to wait,” Tibishibwamu was quoted as saying by local media.

 

Leader Of Tanzania’s Main Opposition Party Arrested

(FILES) In this file photograph taken on March 14, 2020, Tanzania’s Chadema Party chairman Freeman Mbowe (C) gestures as he arrives at the party’s headquarters after being released from Segerea Prison in Dar es Salaam. (Photo by Ericky BONIPHACE / AFP)

 

The leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party Chadema and other members were arrested early Wednesday ahead of a planned conference to demand constitutional reforms, the party said.

Freeman Mbowe and 10 Chadema members were rounded up in the dead of night in the northwestern port city of Mwanza, it said on Twitter.

“We condemn the repression of the rights of Tanzanians with the strongest force. These are signs that the dictatorship that existed during the rule of President John Magufuli continues,” the party charged.

“Freeman Mbowe was accosted by an army of police officers in his hotel when he arrived at 02:30 am and was arrested together with other leaders,” it said.

While the other Chadema members were taken to Mwanza police station, there was no information about Mbowe’s whereabouts.

“We want the police to come out and say where the chairman is and why he was arrested,” Chadema said.

– ‘Cannot continue with old order’ –

The arrests come four months after Tanzania’s first female President Samia Suluhu Hassan took office in March following the sudden death of her predecessor Magufuli.

There have been high hopes that Hassan would usher in a change from the autocratic rule of her predecessor, who was nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising leadership style.

The arrests took place after Mbowe vowed to go ahead with a meeting on constitutional reforms despite Mwanza provincial authorities banning public gatherings to contain the spread of coronavirus.

“We cannot continue with the old order,” Mbowe said in a video published on Twitter on Monday, dressed in a red shirt and beret.

“We have the right to meet but are arrested, beaten, accused and taken to court for two to three years and then freed.

“If they want to arrest all members of the Chadema party, let them first expand the jails because we are all ready to be arrested and will not request bail.”

In April, Hassan had reached out to the opposition and vowed to defend democracy and basic freedoms in the East African country, which had seen a slide into autocratic rule under her predecessor.

In November 2020, several top opposition leaders including Mbowe were briefly detained after calling for mass protests against what they charged was a rigged election that returned then president Magufuli to power for a second term.

The deeply Covid-sceptic Magufuli died in March of what the authorities said was a heart condition but his political opponents insisted he had coronavirus.

Tanzania was long seen as a haven of stability and democracy in an otherwise volatile neighbourhood, but alarm grew over Magufuli’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

AFP