Tanzania opposition leader Lissu released after weekend arrest

Lissu has been holding political rallies across the country since returning from exile in January.

Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu
Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu [Virginia Mayo/AP Photo]

One of Tanzania’s main opposition leaders and former presidential candidate Tundu Lissu has been released on bail hours after he was arrested by police for allegedly holding an illegal gathering.

Lissu, vice chairman of Tanzania’s largest opposition party CHADEMA, was arrested from a hotel along with other party leaders in northern Tanzania’s Arusha region on Sunday and released later that evening, Lissu’s party wrote on social media platform X.

Lissu has been holding political rallies across the country since returning from exile in January, criticising President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s administration for its human rights record and its handling of a controversial ports management deal.

He returned from exile after Hassan lifted a six-year ban on political rallies. He had been in Belgium since he fled in 2020 after losing the presidential election to John Magufuli.

In June 2016, Magufuli prohibited elected officials from holding rallies outside their constituencies. The former president argued that election season was over and rallies were a waste of time and a distraction from development.

This soon became a blanket ban for political gatherings as the police turned down opposition requests to organise rallies. In some cases, even internal party meetings were disrupted with leaders and their followers harassed and arrested.

But Magufuli himself kept holding rallies and crisscrossing the country by road with his entourage, making numerous impromptu stops to address locals and make off-script decisions.

Hassan, his successor, has made moves to reconcile with the opposition, including lifting the ban. But she was also seen as continuing some of the draconian policies of her predecessor – including a seven-month imprisonment of Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe on charges of “terrorism financing”.

Police said on Sunday that Lissu and three other people were detained for questioning about accusations they were holding an unlawful assembly and preventing police from doing their job.

In a short video posted on X, Lissu was seen along with other party members flashing a V-for-victory hand signal, which is regularly used by CHADEMA.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies