73 people arrested in Zanzibar as election draws near

17Mar 2016
David Kisanga
The Guardian
73 people arrested in Zanzibar as election draws near

POLICE here yesterday arrested a total of 73 people in connection with recent acts of violence in Unguja and Pemba islands.

Hamad Masoud Hamad...among the detained.

Among those detained by law enforcers was the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party’s director of mass communication and publicity, Hamad Masoud Hamad.

Zanzibar has been hit by a series of violent incidents including the torching of people’s houses and political party branch offices, and sporadic bombings in different parts of the archipelago in the run-up to Sunday’s scheduled rerun of a general election that was nullified last October in controversial circumstances.

Speaking to news reporters here, West Urban regional police commander Mkadam Khamis Mkadam said yesterday’s arrests followed a thorough investigation conducted by security forces across Unguja and Pemba.

He confirmed that those apprehended were suspected of being behind the increasing spate of such incidents currently rocking the isles as it gears up for the polls rerun.

“We have been working closely with the communities of both Unguja and Pemba to identify these people and locate their whereabouts,” Mkadam said.

He added that security forces will continue to work day and night to ensure peace and harmony prevails in Zanzibar during and after the voting exercise.

Although it was not made immediately clear why CUF official Hamad was arrested along with the others, on Monday this week he accused the government of sending heavily armed security forces to Pemba island - a CUF stronghold – thus prompting residents to go into hiding in forests or flee to Mombasa, Kenya.

Asked to comment on the official’s detention, CUF deputy secretary general Nassor Ahmed Mazrui called it a bullying tactic by the security forces. “We (CUF) condemn such actions because these security forces have a tendency to bully our party leaders and members without reason, as long as they succeed in their plans,” Mazrui told The Guardian here.

He said CUF’s decision to boycott the polls re-run should not be taken as a reason for the police to harass its leaders and members.

Earlier on, Home Affairs Minister Charles Kitwanga refuted claims that Pemba residents have been seeking refuge in Kenya or hiding in bushes due to a perceived military threat.

According to the minister, Pemba is safe and people there are moving around freely as always. He said security forces have been deployed in Pemba to reduce tensions ahead of, during and following the Sunday election rerun.

“We are really puzzled by these spreading stories that Pemba is under any military threat…security forces are only there to maintain peace and harmony during the election and nothing else,” Kitwanga stressed.

While urging would-be voters in both Unguja and Pemba to turn out in large numbers to vote for leaders of their choice, the minister also warned that no one who tried to fuel chaos during the voting exercise would be spared. “People who do not see the need to vote should stay home,” Kitwanga said.

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