Tanzania opposition leaders held, post-election protests foiled

Freeman Mbowe was detained with other opposition figures ahead of calls for mass demonstrations after disputed election.

Tanzanian police have arrested the chairman of a main opposition party and several other opposition figures, and sealed off areas where a demonstration was to begin over last week’s disputed elections.

The opposition has demanded a re-run of the October 28 vote, citing widespread irregularities, and called for peaceful protests on Monday against the outcome, which returned President John Magufuli to office with 84 percent of the vote.

Those arrested included Freeman Mbowe, chair of the Chadema opposition party; Godbless Lema,a former member of parliament; Isaya Mwita, a former mayor of Dar es Salaam; and Boniface Jacob, the former mayor of Ubungo municipality.

“We arrested four people including Freeman Mbowe last night and this morning we arrested three others,” said the Dar es Salaam police chief Lazaro Mambosasa.

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

Mbowe, who was brutally assaulted in what he said was a politically-motivated attack in June, tweeted that his life was “in danger” on the eve of the election, accusing police of raiding his hotel.

Emmanuel Mvula, campaign manager with the ACT Wazalendo party, told The Associated Press news agency on Monday security forces were deployed in the commercial hub of Dar es Salaam, where the two main opposition parties planned to march to the national electoral commission. The arrests, and a heavy security presence, appeared to have deterred potential protesters, and demonstrations never took place.

‘Tyrannical behaviour’

A joint statement issued later by Chadema’s presidential candidate Tundu Lissu and ACT Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe said Mbowe and the other Chadema leaders now face “terrorism-related offenses, which mean that they will not be eligible for bail”.

Lissu and Kabwe added: “We believe that 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.

US Ambassador Donald Wright said reported 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.

Tanzania Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe after being released from prison in March [Ericky Boniphace/AFP]

‘Cause chaos’

Many journalists from foreign media, including Al Jazeera, were not able to obtain accreditation to cover the elections while major social media networks were blocked on voting day, accessible only through virtual private networks.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi in neighbouring Kenya, said the Chadema party is demanding new elections.

“Our colleagues in Tanzania have been doing spot checks in Dar es Salaam to see if protests develop. They are telling us in areas the opposition designated to meet, business is going on as usual. The police issued a statement saying they will not allow this protest to go ahead, saying there were plans ‘to cause chaos’,” said Soi.

The ACT Wazalendo and Chadema parties have accused Tanzania’s ruling party of a “butchering of democracy” after the election commission declared the populist Magufuli the landslide winner of a second term. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party also won almost all parliament seats, enough to change the constitution.

Lissu previously said he will not accept the election results.

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

Allegations include the rejection of thousands of election observers, a massive slowdown in internet and text-messaging services, and deadly violence. Few independent observers were allowed.

The vote “marked the most significant backsliding in Tanzania’s democratic credentials”, Tanzania Elections Watch, a group of regional experts said in an assessment released on Friday. It noted a heavy deployment of military and police whose conduct created a “climate of fear”.

The United States has said it was concerned about reports showing “systematic interference in the democratic process”, while the United Kingdom said it was “troubled by the reports of violence and heavy-handed policing in the elections”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies