Chadema asks EAC leaders to intervene over member arrests and harassment

Saturday August 26 2017

Chadema is now calling on EAC leaders to intervene as the party members grapple with arrests of its cadres. TEA GRAPHIC | NMG

By The EastAfrican

Tanzania’s civil society and main opposition party Chadema have accused President John Magufuli’s administration of harassment of opposition lawmakers, three of whom were arrested in the past week.

Chadema is now calling on EAC leaders to intervene as the party members grapple with arrests of its cadres.

The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), a human-rights NGO based in Tanzania, said the string of arrests amounted to a “violation of political and civic rights” in a country where multi-party politics is enshrined in the Constitution.

On Tuesday, opposition MP Tundu Lissu was arrested for allegedly insulting President John Magufuli, by revealing that Canada had seized a commercial aircraft purchased by the government over an unpaid $38 million debt to a Canadian engineering company.

READ: Tanzanian aircraft seized in Canada over $38m debt -Lissu

It is the sixth time that Mr Lissu, the deputy head of Chadema, has been arrested this year. In July he was charged with hate speech after calling President Magufuli a “dictator.”


He was released on bail on Thursday.

Chadema says more than 400 of its members have been arrested and questioned, with some charged in court, since President Magufuli came to power in October 2015.

Last week, Ester Bulaya, the Bunda MP from the Chadema party, was arrested in the north for allegedly planning a meeting outside her electoral constituency.

“What law prohibits that?” asked the LHRC.

On Wednesday, another MP, Godbless Lema, was arrested for taking seven minutes longer than his allocated time to address a rally.

The LHRC urged the government to respect the rights of all political parties to freely carry out their activities. “Being the member of a different party is not a crime,” the organisation said.

READ: Tanzania rights body slams govt 'harassment' of opposition


President Magufuli, who came to power in 2015 as a corruption-fighting “man of the people,” has been increasingly criticised over his authoritarian leadership style that clamps down on the opposition, journalists and artists.

On Thursday, Chadema’s youth wing said in a statement that they were giving police chief Simon Sirro seven days to tell them “whether or not being a member of an opposition party is a crime.” If there is no response, they plan a countrywide protest on August 31.

The arrests of opposition leaders are higher than those recorded after the July 1983 failed mutiny against founding president Julius Nyerere, in which about 100 people were arrested and some charged with treason.

Chadema member of the Central Committee Prof Mwesiga Baregu told The EastAfrican that intimidation of their party members across the country has caused fear.

“The EAC has to intervene to save the situation. We have never had a situation like this before. Not even a crackdown against treason during president Nyerere’s era matched this level of arbitrary arrests because there was a sense respect for the law. But now people are fearful of being associated with the opposition. The opposition looks like treason and it is the president painting such a picture,” Prof Baregu said.

He added that citizens believe that if they follow the law and still get arrested, then the law is only trapping them.

READ: Chadema condemns arbitrary arrests of its leaders

In Kilombero district, 37 Chadema members have been arrested for allegedly beating up a police officer during a political gathering and providing false information to a government minister who was visiting the area.

In northern Tanzania, which is Chadema’s political base, 17 people have been arrested on accusations of insulting a district commissioner and obstructing a village meeting.

Mr Lissu, the vocal Singida East MP has been interrogated by police more than eight times since early 2016, while MP Halima Mdee and party chairman Freeman Mbowe have been questioned seven and six times respectively during the same period.

Related stories:

John Mrema, Chadema’s director of protocol, communication, ideology and foreign affairs, said the Central Committee had written a letter to acting Chief Justice Prof Ibrahim Hamis Juma questioning the independence of the judiciary due to cases of magistrates and judges refusing to grant party members bail for bailable offences.

Mr Mrema further said that cases involving 114 party members who were recently arrested in Geita and Arusha for unlawful assembly but were denied bail have prompted the party to consider filing a case seeking the constitutional interpretation of the decisions.

“Cases such as the arrest and detention of Arusha MP Godbless Lema for two months without bail, and many others, are threatening Chadema yet at the same time have made us more resilient as a party,” he added.