The chairman of Chadema’s party has been charged with terrorism-related crimes following his arrest in July.
Freeman Mbowe, leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, appeared in court on charges of ‘terrorism’ condemned by his supporters as a politically motivated move aimed at crushing disagreement.
The 59-year-old chairman of the Chadema party has been behind bars since July 21 when he was arrested along with other senior party officials in a close-up attack on police just hours before they would hold a public forum to demand constitutional reforms.
The trial in the country’s high court in Dar es Salaam opened on Tuesday under strict security, with most journalists being banished from the courtroom by police.
The government of President Samia Suluhu Hassan, citing COVID-19 regulations and security, has warned foreign diplomats not to go to court to pursue the matter without notifying the Foreign Ministry.
Representatives of the British and American embassies were present during the trial, which was also attended by senior leaders of Chadema.
Mbowe appeared in court on Monday to settle a case against top legal officials, claiming that his constitutional rights were violated during his arrest and that he was charged.
The opposition condemned the arrests as a setback in the repressive rule of Tanzania’s late leader John Magufuli, who died suddenly in March.
There was hope that Hassan would usher in a new era of democracy after the increasingly heavy rule of Magufuli, but Chadema leaders say the arrests of Mbowe and his colleagues reflect a deepening slide into ‘dictatorship’.
They have accused the government of interfering in the case and want the court to dismiss the charges.
The government denies the allegations.
Earlier this month, the legal group Amnesty International asked the government to substantiate or release Mbowe ‘charges’.
“His arrest and continued detention appear to be a tactic to silence critical voices as part of a growing struggle against the political opposition,” Amnesty said. said in a Twitter post.
Prosecutors say the allegations against Mbowe are not related to the constitutional reform conference Chadema would hold in the port city of Mwanza in July, but rather to alleged violations last year in another part of Tanzania.
Chadema said prosecutors accused Mbowe of plotting to attack a public official and give 600,000 Tanzanian shillings ($ 260) to blow up gas stations and public gatherings and cut down trees to block roads.