Tanzania’s biggest opposition party announced on Wednesday that its leader, Samia Suluhu Hassan, had been arrested along with ten other party members, in what is called confirmation that President Samia Suluhu Hassan was continuing her late predecessor John Magufuli’s dictatorship.
Freeman Mbowe, the Chadema party’s head, and the others were seized before daybreak at a hotel in Mwanza’s lakeside city, where they had planned to have a conference later on Wednesday to discuss recommendations for a new constitution, according to the Chadema party.
The arrests came after dozens of other members of the party were detained last week for convening a meeting without authorization. Calls and texts seeking feedback from the Mwanza region’s police commander and regional commissioner went unanswered. Regional commissioner Robert Gabriel told reporters on Tuesday that gatherings without government approval were prohibited, citing laws put in place since Hassan took office to combat COVID-19.
“We are condemning this violation of human rights for Tanzanians and this is a sign that the dictatorship that was prevailing during President Magufuli’s administration is still persisting,” Chadema said in a statement.
Chadema’s former presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu, who lives in self-imposed exile in Europe, tweeted that Hassan’s rise following Magufuli’s death in March had brought “hope that Magufuli’s reign of terror and war on democracy would end.
“Last night’s arrest of Chairman Mbowe and CHADEMA leaders has dashed any such hope. It’s now time for nationwide protests and international isolation of her regime.”
Tanzania has consistently dismissed charges from opposition parties that its administration is autocratic.
Chadema has advocated amending the constitution, claiming that it is important to defend democracy after Magufuli’s dictatorship. Hassan, a member of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, had served as Magufuli’s vice president before succeeding him when the latter died in March of a cardiac issue that the government claimed was caused by COVID-19, but which opponents believe was caused by the virus.
Mbowe’s whereabouts are unknown, according to Chadema, while the other party figures are being held at Mwanza’s major police station. Chadema had declared that a meeting would be held on Wednesday in Mwanza, near Lake Victoria, and that all delegates will follow health rules to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“If they want to jail Chadema supporters due to constitutional difficulties, let them enlarge their prisons,” Mbowe said during a news conference on Monday. We are prepared to be apprehended and will not be seeking bail.” Magufuli had been Africa’s most outspoken COVID-19 skeptic, dismissing the virus as harmless and refusing to accept any limits aimed at halting its spread.