Tanzania: Lissu briefly detained amid wave of opposition arrests

Opposition challenger the latest to be arrested over call for mass protests against what government critics say were rigged polls.

Presidential candidate Tundu Lissu was arrested in Dar es Salaam as he was leaving European Union missions [File: STR/AFP]

Tanzanian police have released opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu after questioning him for more than two hours, the main opposition party Chadema has said.

Lissu’s detention on Monday came hours after the arrest of several other opposition figures over a call for mass protests against what government critics say were rigged elections.

The main opposition parties have rejected official results which saw President John Magufuli win a second term with 84 percent of the October 28 vote and his governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi party take 97 percent of seats in parliament. The Chadema and ACT Wazalendo parties had called for peaceful demonstrations on Monday as well as fresh elections.

Regional police Commander Lazaro Mambosasa said Lissu’s arrest was “in connection with the banned protest,” according to the AFP news agency.

“We did not issue a permit for anyone to hold demonstrations, so these are illegal demonstrations,” Mambosasa told journalists in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.

However, Chadema later wrote on Twitter that its 52-year-old candidate had been “released after being questioned for two hours”.

A Chadema party spokesman said Lissu was detained in Dar es Salaam while at a building housing the embassies of Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, along with the European Union delegation to Tanzania, adding that more details were to come.

Chadema said 20 senior party officials have been detained.

Lissu had garnered an official 13 percent in last week’s polls. He survived an assassination attempt in 2017 and returned from exile this year to join the presidential race.

Jeffrey Smith, of Vanguard Africa, a Washington-based, pro-democracy nonprofit organisation, said Lissu – who has partnered with them – told him on the phone earlier he had been seeking diplomatic protection for several hours without luck.

Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe and at least six others who were also arrested remain in custody.

“We arrested them in a meeting to organise the protests which we already banned. Some of these people travelled from upcountry to Dar es Salaam and are trying to use youths to take it to the streets,” Mambosasa said.

He added that those arrested had “admitted that they were organising criminal activities such as setting petrol stations, markets, vehicles and some government offices on fire”.

Earlier on Monday, Lissu and ACT Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe had said in a joint statement that they believed “there have been attempts to arrest the two of us”.

Scores of ACT Wazalendo members remain in custody in the semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar, they said.

The statement called on other countries to condemn the Tanzanian government for its “tyrannical behaviour” and said protest efforts will continue.

Following Lissu’s arrest, Kabwe wrote on Twitter that “for sure” he was also going to be arrested. “I want to make clear, I believe in this cause, Magufuli wasn’t legitimately elected and I believe in fully 100% peaceful protests. We are believers in non-violence. We shall win this too.”

US Ambassador Donald Wright said the reports of arrests were of “extreme concern”.

“I urge the government to ensure the safety and security of all opposition leaders, cease these targeted arrests, release detainees, restore telecommunications and afford due process under the law to all citizens,” he wrote on Twitter.

Opposition leaders said police charged their colleagues with “terrorism-related offenses” and sealed off areas where a peaceful protest was to begin over last week’s election that they call too flawed to stand.

Emmanuel Mvula, campaign manager with the ACT Wazalendo party, told The Associated Press news agency there was “heavy deployment of security forces” in the commercial hub of Dar es Salaam, where the two main opposition parties planned to march to the national electoral commission.

“We have not been able to protest,” Lissu told Reuters news agency earlier on Monday, citing heavy deployments of the police on the streets and the arrest of several party officials and supporters.

The opposition has alleged widespread irregularities before and during the vote in the country that some observers say has taken a sharp turn away from democratic ideals in the past five years.

In his bid for a second term, Magufuli promised to boost the economy by completing infrastructure projects started in his first term and continue a crackdown on corruption.

But the opposition and rights groups have complained that his administration has cracked down on critical voices, closing down media outlets and preventing opposition rallies. The government has denied stifling dissent.

Allegations over the electoral process include the rejection of thousands of observers, a massive slowdown in internet and text-messaging services and deadly violence.

Few independent observers were allowed while many journalists from foreign media, including Al Jazeera, were not able to obtain accreditation to cover the elections.

In its latest critical statement on Monday, the United States warned that “in coordination with our partners [it] will consider actions including visa restrictions, as appropriate, to hold accountable those found to be responsible for human rights abuses and interference in the election process”.

The US statement added: “We remain deeply concerned by credible reports of significant and widespread voting irregularities, internet interruption, arrests, and violence by security forces both in mainland Tanzania and on Zanzibar.” It called on all sides to show restraint.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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