The woes of Tanzania’s opposition continued last week, with six Chadema leaders, among them chairman Freeman Mbowe, sitting in jail over the East holiday after they were charged with sedition, incitement to violence and unlawful assembly.
The move by President John Magufuli administration against the opposition, dissenting civil society and media has been roundly condemned, with the church taking a leading role.
On March 27, Mr Mbowe, Chadema’s secretary-general Vincent Mashinji, deputy secretaries-general John Mnyika and Salum Mwalimu and MPs Peter Msigwa and Esther Matiko were charged before Willbard Mashauri at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s court before being sent to Segerea Remand Prison.
They did not, however, appear in court two days later for the bail hearing with the remand boss claiming that all prison vehicles that could have ferried them to court were faulty.
Nonetheless, the judge granted them Tsh20 million ($8,800) bail each with at least two guarantors. They are also required to report to the Central Police Station in Dar es Salaam every Thursday. The judge ordered that they be produced in court on April 3 for signing of their bail papers.
As the strong arm of the law continued to be wielded over demonstrations in February and other civil defiance, some opposition members sought external intervention in pushing for democratic space, marching to the offices of the European Union Delegation in Dar es Salaam to seek the support.
The opposition, civil society and church have criticised increased violation of democratic rights and freedoms since President Magufuli took office in November 2015.
Two major churches, the Catholics and Lutherans, have recently condemned the government’s actions against the opposition, and sought to conduct civil education.
In February, the Catholic church in a letter titled “The Church and Developing Society of Tanzania” highlighted key values the society should emphasise in the civic education.
The episcopal document listed social, political and economic challenges facing the Tanzania and called on the faithful to reflect on them. The bishops criticised the ban on political activities, demonstrations and political parties’ internal meetings, terming them unconstitutional.
Dwindling freedom of expression
The Lutheran Church has also issued a letter reiterating most of the issues cited by the Catholic bishops, in its Easter message titled “Our Nation, Our Peace.” It was issued nearly two weeks after its pastor, Fred Njama was arrested in Moshi for incitement.
Pastor Njama had read a report he had prepared for a church service that detailed some challenges facing the nation, which included unemployment, growing poverty and suppression of freedom of expression.
The government confiscated all the publications from the church’s printing press and ordered those who had collected copies to surrender them.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania listed concerns about the state of the nation — abduction, torture, politically motivated murder and abuse of security organs against the people.
“There are signs of dwindling freedom of expression, assembly and right to information… There is a fear that even the right to worship is in danger,” it said.
The document signed by 27 Lutheran Bishops said the government has a duty of protecting the lives of its people.