The United Nations Human Rights Office has condemned the recent sentencing of eight senior members and one former senior leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, Chadema, terming the act as abuse of human rights and stifling of opposition in the country.
In a statement on Tuesday, UN castigated President John Magufuli’s regime of using the criminal justice system to silence the opposition, human rights activists and even journalists.
“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, ” the statement reads in part.
The accused, including Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe, four MPs and other senior opposition officials had been charged with sedition in 2018 for organizing and participating in a banned demonstration.
On Tuesday, March 10, a magistrate’s court in Dar-es-Salaam found the leaders guilty on 12 out of 13 charges relating to demonstrations held in February 2018.
The court ordered that they pay a fine totalling TSh350 million (Ksh15 million) or serve five months prison.
The accused were sent to Segerea prison in Dar-es-Salaam after failing to raise the money.
The authorities move to send the nine leaders to remand elicited an angry reaction on social media with lobby groups calling for their immediate release.
A campaign launched by Chadema raised the required funds and all the nine have since secured their freedom.
On March 13, when Mbowe was being freed, his supporters engaged police in running battles with the officers and prison guards using tear gas and wooden batons to disperse the crowd.
During the incident, at least 25 Chadema leaders and members were reported arrested and freed on police bond.
The accused had organised and taken part in public rallies in the capital between 1 and 16 February 2018.
The demonstration had been banned by Magufuli’s government.
A 22-year-old student who was not taking part was shot dead by a stray bullet from police.
In the Tuesday statement, the UN further criticized Magufuli over a ban on political rallies that he imposed in June 2016.
UN questioned why the Head of State has not lifted the ban yet the country is headed for an election in 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, ” said UN.
“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.”
Since Magufuli took the oath of office in 2015, he has been accused of crushing dissent, jailing critics and passing draconian laws that have weakened freedoms in Tanzania.