Human rights groups call for release of Tanzanian citizens in Malawi

15Feb 2017
Gerald Kitabu
The Guardian
Human rights groups call for release of Tanzanian citizens in Malawi

After more than three weeks of allegations in the media, about eight Tanzanian citizens who are being held by the Malawian authorities for being suspected of committing the offence of criminal trespass at Kayelekera Uranium mine at Karonga District in Malawi,-

THRDC National Coordinator Onesmo Olengurumwa stresses on a point during the meeting

recent reports say the accusations have changed.

According to Tanzanian human rights organisations who are following up the matter, the accusations have kept on changing repeatedly from “trespassing ”to “collecting confidential information without permission” to “espionage or spying” – and back again to “trespassing” and “carrying out a reconnaissance operation without permit.

Tanzania Human rights defenders coalition in collaboration with other human rights organisations such as the Business and Human Rights Tanzania (BHRT) have therefore called on the government of Tanzania to issue an ultimatum to Malawian government to release them.

The organisations have also called on the government of Malawi to stop mistreating the eight Tanzanians in prison and postponing their case unnecessarily saying the rule of law should be strictly observed.

Addressing a press conference recently in Dar es Salaam, the THRDC National Coordinator Onesmo Olengurumwa named the eight Tanzanian citizens as Briton Mateus Mgaya, Wakisa Elias Mwansangu, Majidi Nkota, Christandusi Ngowi, Ashura Kyula, Martin Guido Ndunguru, Wilbert Mahundi and Rainery Komba.

He said that these Tanzanians are being held by Malawian authorities for being suspected of committing the offence of criminal trespass contrary to section 314(a) of the Penal Code and carrying out reconnaissance operation without a license contrary to section 2 (3) as read with section 2 (4) of the Mines and Minerals Act (cap 61:01 of the Laws of Malawi.

According to Olengurumwa, the eight Tanzanians are a group of Environmentalists from Songea and include members of Tanzania Mineral Miners Trust Fund (TMMTF), CARITAS (a development organisation under the Archdiocese of Songea working with urban and rural poor communities in the Archdiocese).

Others are the members from MVIWATA, a peasant’s organisation, CARITAS and TMMTF partnered to form a small consortium called Tanzania Uranium awareness mission (TUAM), a platform for knowledge exchange and information sharing on the socio-economic and environmental impacts related to mining and extractives.

The Tanzanians have done the same visit to Gauteng South Africa doing cross-learning on abandoned and non-rehabilitated uranium and gold mining.

Olengurumwa said that in Southern Tanzania, about 470km southwest of Dar-es-Salaam, Mkuju River uranium mining project is at an advanced stage of exploration and further exploration is being conducted at Mgombasi ward in Nangelo and Myumnati Maji villages.

Virtually all the eight suspects are members of the society in these uranium mining sites and have a stake to interface with already existing projects with similar ecosystems (Kayelekera being one of the case studies sampled).

Legality of the visit

According to Olengurumwa, their visit to Malawi was legal having been inspected and cleared by immigration officers at the Border. They entered Malawi on the 19th December 2016 and their visit was planned to last for two days.

The eight were hosted by a local organisation called Karonga Business Community who had formalised their cross-learning visit to Malawi. The organisation even sent the necessary logistical details including an invitation letter to necessitate their travel.

Gama, who represented the Karonga Business Community, received the group. They were booked a Hotel known as Safari Lodge. They had a discussion with their host about the visit and all other logistics necessary for their programme.

On 20th December 2016, the 8 Tanzanians were joined by Silungwe, a senior security guard from Kayelekera Uranium mine and a min bus driver including two other Malawians and left the lodge to the village around the mine.

The Silungwe and other security guard notified the visiting Tanzanians that the mine is not operational as it is in the process of being decommissioned and therefore the tour would be restricted to the effluents outside the mining zone.

Conceived plan to the arrest:
Olengurumwa said that immediately after leaving the lodge, Malawi Police intercepted the min-bus and ordered the group to follow them to the Karonga Police unit.

Eventually the five Malawians were cleared and set free while Tanzanians were put in custody for two nights and later appeared before Karonga magistrate court for plea but without any legal representation and a proper translator from English to Swahili.

It is worth noting that the senior security guard for Kayelekera Uranium mine was actively involved in organising logistics for "cross-learning and even pocketed MK200,000/= (that was paid to him in cash as an allowance); and the money which is equivalent to 300,000/= for logistics of organising CSOs meeting in Karonga.

Having faced criminal charges, the state prepared witnesses to testify before the court and in particular, the hand-written statement of the principal witness portrays elements of premeditation.

Conversely, there’s notably departure from the declaration made by the principal witness in his hand written statement to that now printed by the state Counsel for purposes of tendering in the court of law.

In his own confession, Robert Kapira stated a chronology of events which undoubtedly show he played key role of an ‘informer’ to the Police while the eight suspects were still at Safari lodge but evidently influenced the group to board the min-bus and travel to Kayelekera with full knowledge that the eight will surely be intercepted by the Malawi Police within the mine lease area.

Whilst his role at Kayelekera Uranium mine as a Security Superintendent at the mine is supposed to be to provide necessary paperwork of safety induction requirements, pre-security checks and site access clearance.

He interacted with the eight suspects prior to their departure from Safari Lodge without duly performing any of his perceived obligations, instead demanded cash payment of MK20,000 from the visiting Tanzanians as allowance to guide the group in the tour.

The eight never obtained any information illegally as they were intercepted before interviewing anyone. The Tanzanians have been illegally intercepted and prosecuted while their counterparts who played a vital role in facilitating the visit never faced any charges.
Vexatious allegations:

The Executive Director for Business and Human Rights Tanzania (BHRT) Flaviana Charles said that the eight Tanzanians have been labeled as Spies.

The information on this allegation went viral after the Daily Times newspaper of 30 December 2016 gave the issue front-page coverage without soliciting views from the other side of the coin.

It should be noted that four of the eight suspects are merely Standard seven dropouts who can hardly read and write let alone the fact that they cannot speak English nor demonstrate technical understanding of nuclear science or know intelligence gathering operations.

One of the suspects, Ashura Kyula is an old woman in her late 60s and a peasant farmer from Songea. She can hardly understand the charges behind her continued detention.

Detectives exploited her lack of knowledge on her entitlement to social rights and administrative justice by forcing her to sign an exhibit she never authored in the pretext that when she signs the exhibit which is the sketch of Kayelekera Uranium mine depicting production flow which was taken from the senior security guard of Kayelekera on 20 December 2016, she would be released the next day.

Delayed prosecutions and unnecessary adjournments of the case:
The case against the eight Tanzanians took so long to be brought to court and after being brought to court it has been adjourned several times without justifiable reasons. These adjournments raises doubt let alone the charges they face.

Miscarriage of Justice:
Charles explained that the right to fair trial was not observed at all. Accused persons never had the chance to communicate with their relatives and lawyers, as is the case with other Malawians in prison. The right to legal representation was seriously flawed.

There have been no valid grounds put forward by the government of Malawi to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt. There is not a single verdict that has been delivered to date regarding the case facing the eight Tanzanians.

Malawi is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, 1966. It is obliged to comply with human rights as set forth in the Convention. The following events indicate serious violation of human rights;

One suspect aged 60, who does not understand English, was, as mentioned earlier motioned in custody to sign a paper she never authored under the pretense that the group would be released once she signed.

Access to lawyers was extremely restricted, and at times completely barred, and access to representatives of the Tanzania Embassy (High Commission) in Malawi was at times barred. Later on, after writing a letter of seeking the permission to visit the detained persons, access was given to the ambassador.

She further explained that conversations between lawyers and detained persons has been allowed and overheard under the surveillance of heavily armed security forces.

Before the first day of court session, the detainees were refused food for 24 hrs and they were motioned by Public prosecutor in custody to plead “guilty” (which they refused).
Concerns of Human Rights Organisations:

Olengurumwa and Charles said that the detained persons have been pre-judged severely by media after having been labeled as “spies”. While they appreciate efforts taken by the government of Tanzania, they call on the government of Malawi to free them.

Top Stories