A Tanzanian court convicted nine opposition leaders and legislators of making seditious statements and imposed five-month jail terms or a fine, which could heighten activist fears democratic dissent is being stifled.
The defendants are all from Chadema, the leading opposition party and include Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe, the deputy secretary general, ex-secretary general, head of the women’s wing and four legislators. The accused were fined a total of 350 million Tanzanian shillings (£117,793).
The nine were charged with offences including unlawful assembly, rioting and making seditious statements in February 2018 during a by-election campaign in Kinondoni constituency in Dar es Salaam. They denied the charges.
“I am satisfied with the evidence in video tapes. I saw their faces and I know their faces, the evidence is enough to confirm there was unlawful assembly,” Principal Resident Magistrate Thomas Simba said.
Last year, President John Magufuli’s government passed legislation giving powers to a government-appointed registrar over political parties. Magufuli’s government banned newspapers, restricted opposition rallies and detained opposition politicians.
Tanzania, a nation of 57 million people, has long been regarded as one of Africa’s most stable democracies. The ruling CCM party and its predecessor TANU governed since independence from Britain in 1961.
Magufuli, nicknamed “the Bulldozer”, swept to power in 2015 promising an end to corruption. Repeated state intervention in sectors including mining and agriculture have dimmed investment.
His government’s curbs on freedom of expression have drawn criticism from Western donors who provide hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Some suspended loans or aid.