Political, civil rights under threat in Tanzania: report

A campaign political rally .President John Magufuli banned political rallies for non-elected officials last year. PHOTO|FILE

What you need to know:

  • Report titled Tanzania Human Rights 2016, shows that political rights experienced significant pressure as the new government under President John Magufuli came to power following his victory in the October, 2015 General Elections. During the year, the government restricted all political activities including rights to assemble until 2020, saying citizens should focus and concentrate on development activities.

Dar es Salaam. Political rights were threatened in 2016 due to negative developments that limited important freedoms, including freedom to assemble, a recent report on the state of the country’s human rights released by Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) shows.

Report titled Tanzania Human Rights 2016, shows that political rights experienced significant pressure as the new government under President John Magufuli came to power following his victory in the October, 2015 General Elections.

During the year, the government restricted all political activities including rights to assemble until 2020, saying citizens should focus and concentrate on development activities.

Report shows that in 2016, citizens were denied the right to participate in politics such as participating in democratic processes, associating in common causes and demand accountability from state machineries, contrary to political rights provided by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966.

According to report, protection of political rights was further cemented by constitutional guarantee whereby freedom of association, assembly and rights to take part in governance are stipulated.

Report shows that freedom of assembly was put under extreme pressure in 2016 as authorities banned public assemblies and indoor meetings on grounds that limitations aimed to maintain peace with authorities failing to establish clear reasons to justify imposed restrictions instead of relying on generalities.

Report challenged authorities that freedom of assembly and association was enshrined by the international law, African law and Tanzania domestic laws and that authorities was provided with discretion to limit such rights under specific conditions provided by the law.

Also, the country’s constitution provided the legislature with mandate to enact laws that would ensure political parties adhere to conditions set to exercise freedom of assembly and association.

Presenting the 2016 survey findings, LHRC researcher, Mr Paul Mikongoti said police had powers to restrict freedom of assembly as stipulated by law, in pursuit of one or more legitimate aim, when it is necessary and after getting satisfied that it is appropriate.

“However, in 2016 assemblies were restricted without meeting those conditions. Police banned political rallies and demonstrations without giving adequate reasons and justifications contrary to principles of natural justice. The High Court restrained the Police Force from making orders without observing principles of natural justice,” he said.

Therefore, LHRC report recommended that police discretions to limit assemblies should be objectively done. That is prevention and cancellation of assemblies should be done with clear justifications, timely and in writings and should be of the last resort.

“Police should focus on providing security to assemblies, instead of from citing intelligence reasons to justify prohibition and denial to provide individuals and parties with their rights. The police should remember that their legal obligations was to provide law and order to citizens and property. They should therefore provide security to ensure assemblies are conducted in a peacefully manner,” reads part of the report.

Report suggested that establishment and strengthened mechanisms to hold the police accountable through formation of constitutionally endorsed body to objectively oversee the police, the government’s independency and party influences. Mandate of such proposed body should broadly cover the action of the police significantly considering the way they promote and protect human rights in the country.

Also, report suggested that quality and availability of data should be enhanced. The number of assemblies authorized, denied and cancelled alongside reasons for denial and cancellations should be established and shared among the public in an effort to support good governance.

The police is also supposed to protect people and their properties regardless of political affiliations and abstain from politically motivated charges against members of the opposition political parties as the same defeat justice in democratic society.

“The Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CGRAGG) is reminded to put emphasis in promoting human rights, the same way it is promoting good governance because good governance in a democratic country is fundamental for realizing human rights,” reads another part of the report.

Furthermore, the LHRC report advices Civil Society organizations (CSOs) to pressurize the government through the responsible ministry to protect human rights and good governance as a post-election analysis, the Serious Adverse Effect (SAE) need to be addressed.

Report want the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) to proactively engage in initiating serious dialogue among political parties themselves on similar incidences and emerging trends.

“Political parties should also be aware of the prevailing situation in the country’s multiparty democracy and accept the wind of change that might happen to accept democracy to take its course,” reads part of report.

What transpired the country’s politics in 2016

According to report, trend of restrictions started late in 2015 when Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa issued a statement seemed to set the government’s tone on assemblies and general political activities under the fifth phase government. The Premier’s statement was later confirmed by President John Magufuli who officially announced restrictions imposed by the government to political activities in the country.

Speaking at the National Electoral Commission (NEC) function, President Magufuli said he wouldn’t tolerate anyone planning to stall his leadership plans in fulfilling election pledges made by his government made during the 2015 General Election campaigns, suggesting that those behind politicking should wait until 2020.

The Police Force chipped in after President Magufuli’s announcement, banning political assemblies across the country. But the opposition Chadema wasn’t satisfied, later announced plans to stage what was termed as the “defiance day” slated for September 1, last year.

Announcing the decision made by party’s Central Committee meeting, party’s national chairman Freeman Mbowe said the countrywide demonstrations intended to protest President Magufuli’s growing “dictatorship tendencies”.

Chadema’s announcement on the “defiance day” prompted government authorities to extend restrictions to internal party meetings. Local police chiefs in various districts banned rallies in their areas of jurisdictions, including rallies organized Chadema in Kahama District, Shinyanga Region which was dispersed by the police after excessive use of force.

Report show that graduation ceremony organized by Chadema youth wing in universities (Chaso) in Dodoma and Kilimanjaro were not spared, likewise to ACT-Wazalendo’s workshop to debate the 2016/17 budget. Other meetings at district level were also banned by the police dooming them to have carried political agenda of “inciting violence”.

“The Civic United Front (CUF) indoor meeting was barred in November last year in Mtwara on grounds that there were possibilities to disrupt peace and security in the region. Also, Chadema meeting in Kibaha District, Coast Region was called off in August 5, last year in spite of the fact that all procedures were observed,” reads another part of a report.

According to a 2016 report, as political rallies were restricted almost all major cities and towns were flocked with full-equipped riot police forces with authorities claiming they were conducting “regular readiness exercises”.

Flocking of security officers in streets brought fear and tension to citizens with their routine activities disrupted. Several people were arrested in connection with “defiance day” demonstrations popularly known in its Swahili acronym (Ukuta), forcing Chadema to halt the countrywide demonstrations.

Suspending the “defiance day” demonstrations, Chadema national chairman, Mr Mbowe said the operation was suspended for a month to give time political stakeholders including religious leaders and Civil Society organizations (CSOs) to engage into dialogue with the Head of State on the ongoing political situation in the country.

Elections in Local Government Authorities (LGAs)

Local Government Authority Elections in the councils of Dar es Salaam (Temeke, Kinondoni and Ilala), Kilombero District Council and Tanga Municipal Council were marred with looming irregularities

According to the fact finding mission conducted by LHRC in 2016 in Kilombero District Council and Tanga Municipal Council malpractices were contrary to principles of democracy and good governance.

The fact finding mission discovered that the malpractice in the March 1, 2016 election of the District Council chairman in Kilombero that saw CCM’s David Ligazo winning by 19 votes against Chadema candidate Godfrey Luena who garnered 18 votes was partly attributed by three major reasons.

The National Election Commission (NEC’s) failure to demarcate the Kilombero and Mlimba Constituencies, arrest of the Kilombero MP, Peter Lijualikali during the Election Day and intervention of the police that saw three Officer Commanding Districts (OCDs) reshuffled within a short period of time as an indication that there were ill-intention against the opposition parties and the country’s democracy.

In reality Chadema has Chadema 19 seats, CCM 18 and CUF 1.

Similar arguments were given regarding mayoral elections in Tanga Municipal Council where CCM won on similar grounds prompting to chaos that has disrupted and paralyzed municipal activities including regular council meetings which never happen since election of municipal mayor and his respective deputy.