Dar es Salaam. The suspension from practice of prominent advocate Ms Fatma Karume has elicited an uproar, with the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) saying it has summoned an urgent meeting over the matter.
Separately, the Judiciary’s Chief Registrar Ms Katarina Revocati said the doors are open for Ms Karume to lodge her dissatisfaction with the punishment meted against her.
Ms Revocati told The Citizen in a telephone interview that it would be unethical for her to comment on the substance of the suspension as the court had already made its pronouncement.
“But there are procedures for one to submit dissatisfaction over a given court decision and the doors are open for Ms Karume’s case,” she said.
TLS president Rugemeleza Nshala said the bar received the news of the suspension of its immediate former President with “shock and sadness.”
He said the decision was unacceptable and that the TLS Governing Council will convene a meeting in the coming three days to consider the appropriate response.
“This decision is explicitly a threat to all lawyers who work tirelessly for the public interest in this country,” said Dr Nshala in an interview with The Citizen.
The reaction by the lawyers’ body was part of condemnation, especially on social media, as civil society leaders, politicians and ordinary Tanzanians largely criticized the move to lock out the outspoken lawyer from mainland Tanzania.
High Court Principal Judge Eliezer Feleshi on Friday slapped Ms Karume with an indefinite suspension as an advocate over alleged misconduct. He said her case will be forwarded to the advocates committee.
Justice Feleshi was dismissing a case in which Ms Karume was representing Mr Ado Shaibu who has challenged President John Magufuli’s appointment of Prof Adelardus Kilangi as Attorney General.
In the suit, the claimant who is ACT-Wazalendo political party’s spokesperson, argued that the AG was unqualified and that Dr Magufuli errored in law to appoint him to the post. The lawyer who was not in court during the ruling was accused of impropriety in her submission, and has since cried foul, saying she was condemned unheard.
While Feleshi did not specify what impropriety the lawyer had committed in her submission, netizens quickly shared part of what was her submissions. “So mark my words, in the event this case fails on the preliminary point, it is not over,” wrote Ms Karume, referring to a constitutional section that allows commencing civil or criminal proceedings against a President who has left office. She said that they will test again to challenge the appointment of the AG. “Be it in 2020 or 2025. And in the latter case, the bench will also be a different one. That is the beauty of the law.”
Ms Karume remained defiant in the aftermath, vowing to pursue other avenues to further her beliefs. She said suspending her license would not kill her spirit or stop her from championing social justice, the rule of law and good governance.
“You never know what this means and what lies ahead as fate works in many ways. May be this is telling me that I will not bring desired change to society via the route of the law in court but elsewhere…..maybe I should be in politics,” she told the media on Friday shortly after receiving the news of her suspension.
Ms Karume who is the daughter of former Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume is a stickler to procedure and the rule of law and has taken up several constitutional cases to challenge the status quo.
While she did not specify if she would take a stab at a direct role in politics, the advocate suggested politics was the likely route to bring the change she was looking for in society. “After all in Africa no court has ever brought change. It is politics that has brought change you see in countries such as those in the EAC, including changing the Judiciary itself like Kenya did,” she said.
Ms Karume said she was paying the price for daring to challenge President John Magufuli in a court of law. In one of her tweets, she said: “I am ready to go to jail for 30 years if my incarceration will bring democracy and the rule of law in the country.”
She said she would take time to reflect her way forward. “They have panicked,” she said of people she said wanted her out of the way. “As far as I am concerned the decision is intended to discourage all lawyers in the country who uncompromisingly stand against the abuse of power and I am not sure if it will succeed.”
Rights activists said the High Court’s decision was an effort to muzzle critical and independent voices. Mr Shaibu said he will not back down. He said: “We shall never allow the occupant of the AG office to be a constitutionally unqualified person.”
Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) executive director Anna Henga said that although she is not sure whether or not Karume deserved such a punishment, she is certain that the suspension is extreme. She said the alleged misconducts ought to have been investigated first and the lawyer be given a chance to defend herself.
“Punishing advocates in such a way not only threatens their independence and confidence but also entail disrespect for the rule of law principles,” said Ms Henga.
Ms Karume, however, still could practice in Zanzibar which has a different regime to the mainland. Among cases that she was hearing locally include one in which Kigoma Urban MP Zitto Kabwe has challenged the powers of the Parliament Speaker to summon the Controller and Auditor General (CAG).