Tanzania’s main opposition party says its chairman has been hospitalised after being beaten in a “politically-motivated” attack, as police said they would investigate the assault.
Freeman Mbowe was ambushed by unknown assailants as he returned home late on Monday in the capital Dodoma, and rushed to hospital with injuries, his Chadema party said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Unknown people surrounded him and assaulted him before he started taking the stairs. Though these people had carried firearms, they didn’t use them,” said Chadema’s Secretary-General John Mnyika.
A high-profile critic of President John Magufuli, Mbowe has repeatedly accused the government of covering up the extent of Tanzania’s coronavirus outbreak and failing to take the pandemic seriously.
“This is a politically-motivated attack. Our priority now is his health,” Mnyika told local media.
Police said they were investigating reports that Mbowe had been set upon by three men who broke his leg, but warned against politicising the incident.
“The police will conduct a thorough investigation. Nothing will be left out,” Dodoma Regional Police Commander Gilles Muroto told local media.
“This is an incident like any other. It is forbidden to use it for political purposes.”
The assault comes a day after Chadema MP Tundu Lissu announced his intention to run against Magufuli in the presidential election scheduled for October.
Lissu lives in self-imposed exile in Belgium, where he was treated after being shot several times at his home in Tanzania in 2017.
In recent months, Mbowe accused Magufuli of being in a “state of denial” over the coronavirus and warned that his government was hiding information about the real scale of the crisis.
Tanzania is one of few countries in Africa that has not taken extensive measures against the virus, and Magufuli is among a handful of world leaders still downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic.
On Tuesday, President Magufuli declared the East African country “coronavirus-free” thanks to prayers by citizens.
Tanzania stopped updating information about its cases in April.
The following month, the US embassy in Tanzania issued an advisory warning of “exponential growth” of COVID-19 cases and overwhelmed hospitals, earning a rebuke from the foreign ministry.
Mbowe in May asked Tanzania’s legislators to stop attending parliament sessions and isolate themselves after three MPs died of unknown causes.
Chadema has faced increasing hostility under Magufuli, who took office in 2015 as a corruption-fighting “man of the people” but has been criticised for his authoritarian leadership style.
Rights groups say his administration has crushed dissent, jailed critics and passed draconian laws that have weakened freedoms in Tanzania, once seen as a bastion of democracy in a tumultuous part of East Africa.
Chadema has accused police of breaking up party meetings, and its activists have been kidnapped and beaten. Mbowe and several other opposition MPs were briefly jailed in March over a banned protest against Magufuli.