Rights group demands release of Tanzanian opposition leaders

 Human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, has called on Tanzanian authorities to stop targeting the opposition and immediately release all opposition members arrested in a swoop on Wednesday.

“Tanzanian authorities must end escalating crackdown on opposition party and leaders. Unless the authorities have clear legal grounds to justify these arrests, all of those arrested in this swoop must be immediately released,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes Region, Flavia Mwangovya, said in a statement.

The Tanzania Police Force must also account for the whereabouts of Freeman Mbowe and ensure his security and safe return, the statement said.

Opposition leader Freeman Mbowe and 11 other party officials and staff of Party of Democracy and Progress, officially known as Chadema, were arbitrarily arrested on Wednesday.

“Tanzanian authorities must stop targeting the opposition and trying to narrow the space they are able to operate in. These arbitrary arrests and detentions show Tanzanian authorities’ flagrant disregard for the rule of law, and human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and association. These politically motivated arrests must stop,” Mwangovya said.

Amnesty International said the 12 members of the opposition were arrested at 2.30am on 21 July from their hotel rooms in Mwanza by Tanzanian police.

The arrest came hours before a planned conference demanding a new constitution for the country.

On 20 July, Mwanza’s Regional Commissioner Robert Gabriel, banned all forms of gathering except for religious gatherings and funerals, stating that anyone intending to assemble must get clearance from his office.

According to the opposition party’s Protocol, Communications and Foreign Affairs director, John Mrema, the 11 detained at Central Police Station have not been charged with any criminal offence.

Lawyers representing them have also not seen any statements of offence regarding the reason for their arrest