Freeman Mbowe, chairman of Chadema, and 15 other members were summoned in a crackdown denounced as a setback to the country’s oppressive government.
Tanzania’s largest opposition party said its leader and other members would be charged with ‘terrorism’ arrested in a comprehensive midnight raid that raises international concerns.
Freeman Mbowe, chairman of Chadema, and 15 other members were summoned on Wednesday night in a crackdown that was pronounced as a setback to the oppressive government of the country’s late leader.
The party said on Thursday that Mbowe’s house in Dar es Salaam had seized his laptop and other family members’ devices before the Chadema chairman was transferred to the city’s central prison.
“We have received shocking information that Mbowe will be jointly charged with terrorism along with the other suspects being held in the Dar es Salaam prison,” he said on Twitter.
Mbowe and the other Chadema officials were arrested in the port city of Mwanza on Lake Victoria in front of a planned public forum to demand constitutional reform.
Regional police commander Ramadhan Ngh’anzi said Mbowe would later be returned to Mwanza to join the others arrested for arranging the ‘banned’ meeting.
“For now, he is safe in the central police station in Dar es Salaam,” he told reporters.
The arrest comes four months after Tanzania’s first female president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, took office sudden death in March of John Magufuli, under whose authoritarian rule such actions on the opposition were frequent.
In April, Hassan reached out to the opposition and vowed to defend democracy and basic freedoms.
The great hope was that Tanzania would be sent away from the heavy and uncompromising leadership of its predecessor.
But the compilation of key Chadema figures has been condemned by rights groups and opposition activists as proof that the government’s intolerance of dissent still prevails.
Amnesty International described the arrests as “arbitrary” and part of a growing campaign against the political opposition in a country that was once seen as a beacon of democratic stability in the region.
“Tanzanian authorities must stop targeting the opposition and try to reduce the space in which they can function,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty’s deputy director for East Africa.
“These arbitrary arrests and detentions show that the Tanzanian authorities are blatantly disregarding the rule of law and human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and association. These politically motivated arrests must stop. ”
Unless the # Tanzaniaan authority has clear legal grounds to justify these arrests, all 11 @ChademaTz members must be released immediately. They also need the location of @freemanmbowetz and ensures its safety and safe return. https://t.co/B6toNd9LAf
– Amnesty East Africa (@AmnestyEARO) 22 July 2021
The United States said on Wednesday it was confirming the details of Mbowe’s arrest, but that it would be “very worrying”.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken urged Hassan in a July 6 phone call to protect civil liberties, stressing “the importance of ensuring a democratic, peaceful, free and prosperous future for all Tanzanians”, Ned Price said.
According to the United Nations, at least 150 opposition leaders have been arrested after denouncing Magufuli and Hassan for a second term in an October 2020 election, which they say was a major fraud.
The deep-seated COVID skeptic Magufuli died in March from the authorities’ heart condition, but his political opponents insisted he contracted the disease.