Tanzania’s opposition party Chadema this week called off planned nationwide defiance rallies as tensions and fear of violence mounted.
The party chairman Freeman Mbowe said they called off the rallies in response to pleas by religious leaders, the Legal and Human Rights Commission and the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation to hold a dialogue with the government, which has banned political meetings.
Chadema formed the Umoja wa Kupambana na Udikteta Tanzania (Ukuta) on July 26 to protest what they called President John Magufuli’s dictatorial tendencies.
Mr Mbowe accused the government of trying to kill democracy by banning political rallies until 2020. They then called for countywide demonstrations, calling other parties and civil society to join in.
As tensions mounted, civil society, clergy and the political parties regulator beseeched Chadema to call off the rallies and hold talks with the government.
Several top leaders and more than 40 followers of the party were arrested and some arraigned in courts for alleged political incitement. Among them were Tundu Lissu, the party’s lawyer, Godbless Lema, member of parliament for the Arusha urban constituency and its Deputy Secretary General for Zanzibar Salum Mwalimu.
Police said the leaders and members of the leading opposition party were planning demos contrary to the government directive.
This, according to analysts, seemed to be banning of political activities and, according to Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba, executive director of a local human rights watchdog, Legal and Human Rights Centre, it was tantamount to denying politicians the right to work.
Police also said they had received intelligence reports that the opposition planned to use the public rallies to call for the launch of a campaign of civil disorder in the country.