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Tanzania: Opposition Sentences Highlight Continued Stifling Of Freedoms

The recent sentencing of eight senior members and one former senior leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, CHADEMA, on charges including sedition and unlawful assembly is further troubling evidence of the crackdown on dissent and the stifling of public freedoms in the country, the UN Human Rights Office said on Tuesday.

The verdicts were delivered by a magistrate’s court in Dar-es-Salaam on 10 March. The nine defendants* were found guilty on 12 out of 13 charges relating to demonstrations held in February 2018 that they organised or participated in. They were ordered to pay fines totalling 350 million Tanzanian shillings (some US$152,000) or serve five months in prison.

Unable to immediately pay the fines, the nine were sent to Segerea prison in Dar-es-Salaam on 10 March. However, a social media campaign launched by CHADEMA raised the necessary funds and all nine have now been released.

Reports received by the UN Human Rights Office indicate that there were clashes outside the prison on 13 March when CHADEMA Chairperson Freedom Mbowe was being released, with police and prison guards using tear gas and wooden batons to disperse the crowd. Some 25 CHADEMA leaders and members were reportedly arrested and then freed on police bail.

The latest sentences highlight what appears to be an ongoing strategy by the Government to use the criminal justice system to target its critics, imposing large fines or jail terms on opponents, journalists and civil society figures. Some people, including several CHADEMA members, have faced repeated charges and court appearances.

In June 2016, Tanzanian President John Magufuli announced a ban on political activities until 2020. The ban remains in place with general elections scheduled for October this year.

The democratic and civic space has shrunk to almost nothing in Tanzania.

Bans on political demonstrations are generally a disproportionate restriction on the right of peaceful assembly and may in practice be discriminatory. The Government should immediately lift this ban, and abide by its international obligations to respect human rights, including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression.

* Freeman Mbowe, Peter Msigwa, Salum Mwalimu, John Mnyika, Esther Matiko and former CHADEMA member Vincent Mashinji, who recently joined the ruling CCM party, were charged in March 2018. Three other CHADEMA member - Halima Mdee, John Wegesa and Esther Bulaya - were charged on 13 April 2018.

They had organised and taken part in public rallies in the capital between 1 and 16 February 2018. During one of the demonstrations, a 21-year-old student was shot and killed as police officers attempted to break up the demonstrators. There has been no investigation to date into this death and the UN Human Rights Office is not aware of any attempts to hold whoever may be responsible to account.

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