Mwanza. Leaders of opposition Chadema yesterday locked horns with the police who blocked a conference organized by the party’s youth wing.
Police banned the internal meeting at a hotel claiming the gathering involved non-members of the party, making it look like a public forum.
However, the Chadema Youth Council (Bavicha) and other leaders argue that it was a mere internal meeting which should not be blocked. According to Mwanza Regional Police Commander Ramadhani Ng’anzi, at least 38 people were arrested over the incident.
But, Chadema claimed that the whereabouts of 128 leaders and members was unknown since yesterday morning and they feared that they were in police custody.
Some of the leaders who were confirmed arrested included Bavicha acting secretary general Richard Kaunya, Bavicha publicity secretary Twaha Mwaipaya, Bavicha Mwanza regional chairman Boniface Nkobe, Chadema Nyamagana District secretary David Nyakimwe and Mwanza regional chairman Grayson Wanzagi.
The other detainees, according to Commander Ng’anzi, are Bishop Emaus Mwamakula of the Moravian Revival Church and retired University of Dar es Salaam lecturer Azaveli Lwaitama whom Chadema leaders claimed were arrested at the hotel.
“On July 16, the police received information from the Chadema Youth Council (Bavicha) to organize a National Constitutional Conference scheduled for Mwanza. After convincing ourselves that the forum is not an internal meeting as they claimed, we decided to block the gathering,” said Commander Ng’anzi.
“We issued a restraining order to Chadema leaders and fortunately many obeyed; but some refused and arrived at the planned venue. We are holding 38 people, including six women, for questioning,” he added.
Clarifying on why the police claim the planned meeting looked as a public rally, Mr Ng’anzi said the internal meetings were supposed to be attended by special members who were also given special invitations, while non-members also could attend after being given official invitations, not over public calls made out in the streets.
“We caught a Chadema car passing through the streets inviting all citizens regardless of their party affiliation to attend the forum. In fact, the event was a public rally with a sweet name of internal meeting,” he said.
Speaking to reporters at the party’s regional offices in Mwanza, Chadema leaders condemned the police interference in the internal meeting which they said did not legally require them to get police approval.
The conference was expected to be attended by over 600 people including scholars, religious leaders, ordinary citizens, leaders and members of Chadema.
“We condemn the act of the police interfering with and obstructing our planned conference. This is a continuation of the police tendency to get involved in politics by obstructing activities of opposition parties while the ruling party is allowed to not only hold internal meetings, but also rallies without harassment,” said Bavicha chairman John Pambalu.
Political activities such as the rallies other than election campaigns, have not regularly resumed since they were banned in 2016.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan told editors last month that the opposition should wait longer for the meetings, claiming she needed more time to build the economy.
The yesterday incident revived the opposition demand to allow the political activities including the freedom to hold public rallies.
Despite questioning police authority to intervene in internal party meetings, Chadema Central Committee member and former Tarime Rural MP John Heche went so far as to remind those in charge of public leadership to recognize Tanzanians had constitutional and legal right to participate, discuss, plan and decide how to govern themselves including the type of constitution they need.
“That right is not a charity given by the rulers. That is why we want a new constitution that will hold leaders accountable for failing to protect and defend the rights and freedom. The current constitution provides an opportunity for leaders to do whatever they want without fear,”said Chadema Central Committee member and former Tarime Rural MP John Heche.
“Tanzania’s reputation for supporting liberation in many African nations is beginning to fade because what we have opposed, including acts of human rights abuses, is beginning to take place in the country,” said former Iringa Member of Parliament Rev Peter Msigwa.