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Arraign me or let me leave, Zara pleads with Tanzania government

Saturday January 30 2021
Zara pic

Australian national Zara Kay poses for a photo in a past event. The activist, who has been facing legal troubles in Tanzania, has called on Tanzanian authorities to either arraign her or free her instead of prolonging her ordeals. In an interview, she also criticised the Australian High Commission in Nairobi for keeping mum on her problems. PHOTO | AGENCIES

By Louis Kalumbia

Dar es Salaam. Australian activist Zara Kay stuck in Dar es Salaam since her arrest in December last year has pleaded with Tanzania authorities to arraign or set her free to leave the country.

She told The Citizen that her arrest had nothing to do with crime, however, alleging that charges levelled against her were framed by someone from her former community, Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri.

The former member of the faith group and founder of Faithless Hijabi accused some members of the community of launching intimidations against her and her relatives to the extent of considering the country unsafe for her to stay.

Ms Kay, who spoke during an exclusive interview with The Citizen, said apart from receiving escalated threats on her life, she has lost her job in the United Kingdom after failing to renew her visa as she overstayed in the country due to pending legal matters.

Ms Kay was arrested in Dar es Salaam on December 28, 2020, held at the Oyster Bay Police Station only to be released 32 hours later.

The international media reported that she was questioned over satirical social media posts about the government, immigration issues and using SIM card registered by another person’s name.

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During her first interview with local media, Ms Kay who was released on bail linked the ordeal she was going through to an individual with authority and wealth from her former community.

But, in a quick rejoinder, a spokesperson of the Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri Community, Mr Azim Dewji, refuted the claims by the activist, calling them unfounded and aimed at seeking public sympathy.

Regarding the legal charges facing Ms Kay, he said, “How am I supposed to know whether the government is holding her or not. Moreover, I don’t have the powers to effect her arrest or give her instructions to utter insulting words against the president.”

Regarding Ms Kay’s claims that someone from the community with administrative and economic powers was behind her ordeal, Mr Dewji said nobody in the President John Magufuli administration could use his/her wealth to oppress others.

“In the past that could be possible, but the President was categorical on the matter and that wealth shouldn’t be feared,” he said.

Regarding threats for her beliefs, Mr Dewji said nobody is forced to remain in a faith, saying even the Holy Quran forbids people from forcing others into the faith.

He said had there been plans to forcefully get hold of her for questioning or an attempt on her life, then that would have been a different matter. Mr Dewji further said they (the faith community) had had problems with the activist’s behaviour before, despite the cordial relations they have maintained with members of her family.

“Even yesterday [Wednesday], I met with her father. We exchanged greetings and talked for a while. His daughter’s problems cannot separate us,” he said. The immigration commissioner of passport and citizenship, Mr Gerald Kihinga, could not provide the progress of investigations into immigration charges facing the activist who has acquired the Australia citizenship.

“I haven’t been updated with the progress of investigations because I’m on safari to the country’s capital of Dodoma for the last two weeks,” he said over the phone asking to be contacted on Monday.

Ms Kay’s lawyer Benedict Ishabakaki said he has been routinely following development of the case at the Immigration offices and police where the response has been investigations were yet to be completed.

“The problem with the Tanzania laws is that they don’t say when investigations would be concluded. Therefore, it becomes difficult to press harder for speeded investigations,” he said over the phone.

Similar responses were given yesterday when the lawyer reported at the Oyster Bay Police Station for weekly reporting as instructed by the law enforcement organ.

However, he said on Wednesday he had written to the commissioner general of Immigration to inform the authority on the expiry of Ms Zara’s visa to stay in the country during the time her passport was still held by the department.

“Ms Kay would like to leave the country because; threats against her have escalated. She has also suffered damage after losing her UK job after failure to renew her visa due to persisting legal issues here in the country,” he said. But, during the interview, Ms Kay pleaded that authorities should take her to court for justice to take its course or leave her free to leave the country.

“My call to the Tanzania authorities is that they should either charge me or drop what they believe to be charges facing me and be honest about my arrest,” she said.

According to her, she would like to leave the country as soon as he gets back her passport, insisting that the ordeal she was going through was politically motivated and that there was no criminal element in it.

“This is happening purely because of my activism. I had even informed the Australian High Commission in Nairobi about what is happening. Tanzanian authorities should do something to stop this,” she said.

She further said that Tanzania government had nothing against her, arguing that it was important that someone was treated fairly regardless of whether one was a Tanzanian or foreigner. She said that she had already completed 30 days and no charges had been pressed against her, nor control number released, no charge sheets that had been prepared and that her passport as well as mobile phone were still in the hands of the police. According to her, she has been receiving life threats some of them have been directed against her family and relatives something that made her fear for her life and those of her closest people.

However, she failed to point at a specific person from among members of her former faith community who might have been engineering her ordeal as per her allegations.

She also revealed that she had not made any formal complaints to the police regarding the claimed threats. Ms Kay also blamed the Australian High Commission for neglecting her despite communicating with it over her plights, saying that no officer had neither contacted the Tanzanian government nor his lawyer.

“I’m now speaking to the media because authorities are trying to prosecute an innocent person after over 30 days of my arrest without interventions of the High Commissioner,” she said. During the interview, she admitted that the three were key issues during the questioning which later changed with immigration issues emerging top. But, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Simon Sirro told journalists on January 13, 2021 that Ms Kay was being investigated on immigration charges. The same was testified by Mr Kihinga who said she was being investigated for failure to surrender her Tanzanian passport after acquired Australian citizenship. “She is being investigated for failing to declare her acquisition of Australian citizenship and securing the relevant documents. Tanzanians have no dual citizenship, and it is illegal for a Tanzanian to hold passports of two different countries,” he said. However, Ms Kay maintained that she never used the Tanzania passport immediately after acquiring Australian citizenship and that the Tanzanian law provides that the country’s travel document automatically becomes invalid if the holder acquires nationality of another country.

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