Dar es Salaam. Victims of military torture in Mtwara bared it all yesterday. Before the cameras, they stripped one by one to reveal horrific scars they said were inflicted by “blood thirsty soldiers”.
Mr Issa Kuilanga, Mr Salum Muhammed and Mr Ismael Bakari were whipped in the back repeatedly, leaving permanent scars they were brave enough to show the public.
A fourth man, Ismael Jamal, was overcome with emotion as he was restrained from removing his shirt to show sores that were still oozing blood.
Their tale at a press conference in Dar es Salaam was met with chilling silence as Civic United Front (CUF) officials sought to demonstrate the ugly side of the military operation to restore calm in the wider Mtwara Region.
“We are now safe after escaping death, but our torture should mark the end of impunity against the people of Mtwara,” said CUF’s director of parliamentary affairs and elections, Mr Sheweji Mketo, who was one of the victims.
“Tanzanians should take this as part and parcel of our sacrifice to highlight the problems in Mtwara.” The opposition party hinted that it would consider suing the State and the army for the alleged torture of its members.
The press conference came a day after President Jakaya Kikwete hosted the CUF national chairman, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba. They reportedly discussed the army’s human rights violations.
Prof Lipumba told The Citizen on Saturday in a telephone interview that he met Mr Kikwete to let him know what was happening in Mtwara and seek his help to end human rights abuses by State security agents.
CUF sought an audience with the President a week ago when the head of state was closing a meeting of political parties hosted by the Tanzania Centre for Democracy.
“We wanted the meeting to let the President know what is happening so he can use his powers to end human rights violation going on in Mtwara right now,” said Prof Lipumba.
The CUF leader said he also used the opportunity to ask Mr Kikwete to pursue political means, including dialogue with other leaders, to promote democracy and the rule of law for the sake of development, he added.
“I am happy that Mr Kikwete was receptive and showed concern at what I was telling him. He was shocked to hear our story but also positive in his responses,” said Prof Lipumba, who last week wrote extensively on the matter.
The President reportedly told him that sending the army to Mtwara was not intended to abuse the rights of the people.
But, according to Prof Lipumba, the State House meeting was not related to yesterday’s dramatic reports.
“They also have a right to share with the public the information that they have just as it will be within their right to pursue court action if they so wish,” the CUF leader added. “We want the government to be open about democracy, politics and general governance if we are to move forward and solve thorny issues affecting the nation.”
In total, six CUF officials yesterday said they were arrested, detained incommunicado and tortured overnight at a military facility for reasons they dismissed as “flimsy”. They said those who kidnapped them were members of the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces.
Mr Mketo said they were arrested as they headed to Mtwara town from Msimbati village, where they had gone to collect evidence of the brutality of the security agents, but they were blocked by 50 military personnel a few kilometres from the town. He added: “They pulled us out of our vehicle and whipped us before taking us to Naliendero military camp, where we were tortured the whole night.”
Mr Mketo said he collapsed during the beating and they were handed to police the next day. The bloodstained officials were later charged with incitement and causing a breach of peace, he added, and they spent days in the cell before enough bail was raised to secure their release.
The other party officials who were reportedly kidnapped are Salum Hamis and Ismael Hamis from Mtwara and their driver, Mr Kashinde Juma. Violence erupted in Mtwara after the government announced the construction of a pipeline to transport gas from the region to Dar es Salaam for power generation and industrial use.
Outraged residents launched protests that left several people dead and property worth millions of shillings destroyed. The army was then sent in to crack down on the alleged instigators of the violence.
Several people have been charged with offences related to the chaos, including Mtwara Urban MP Hasnain Murji.
Additional reporting by Henry Mwangode.