Tanzania opposition leaders found guilty for 'illegal' protest

Wednesday March 11 2020
world02pix

Chadema party leaders stand in the dock at Kisutu resident magistrates court in Dar es Salaam on March 10, 2020. - A court in Tanzania ordered a group of opposition lawmakers and other co-accused to pay a fine or serve five months prison on charges related to a banned demonstration. AFP PHOTO

A court in Tanzania on Tuesday ordered a group of opposition lawmakers and other co-accused to pay a fine or serve five months prison on charges related to a banned demonstration. 

A judge in Dar es Salaam found the nine defendants including top political opposition figures guilty of sedition and other charges and sentenced them to jail unless they raised TShs350 million ($152,000) in penalties.

The accused, including Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe, four MPs and other senior opposition officials, were remanded in custody after failing to raise the money.

"We went to the court believing that we could win. However, this sentence will not stop us from fighting for democracy in this country," the party's deputy chairman, Said Issa Mohammed, told reporters after the verdict.

He said Chadema, the main opposition movement challenging Tanzania's powerful ruling CCM party, was trying to raise the money, and would consider appealing.

Mbowe and the others were charged in 2018 with sedition, unlawful assembly and inciting violence, among other offences, over a rally in which police fired live rounds to disperse Chadema supporters demanding accreditation in a local election.

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A 22-year-old student who was not taking part was shot dead by a stray bullet from police.

Some of the charges were linked to a speech Mbowe gave during the demonstration in which he said President John Magufuli would not last long in his job. 

The demonstration had been banned by Magufuli's government, which has been accused of crushing dissent, jailing critics and passing draconian laws that have weakened freedoms in Tanzania.

The strongman leader, who was elected in 2015, is expected to run for another term later this year in a country once seen as a bastion of democracy in a tumultuous part of Africa.

Magufuli took office as a corruption-fighting "man of the people" but has been criticised for his authoritarian leadership style.

In September 2017, lawmaker Tundu Lissu, a member of Chadema, was shot and seriously injured at his home. The following year two local Chadema officials were killed by unknown gunmen, in murders described by the opposition as political assassinations.

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