Security tight as police quiz Mbowe over protest ‘threat’

01Aug 2016
Devota Mwachang'a
The Guardian
Security tight as police quiz Mbowe over protest ‘threat’
  • The CHADEMA leader, who last week called for a nationwide ‘day of defiance’ against perceived government ‘dictatorship’, was interrogated for about three hours before being released on police bail

THE central police station in Dar es Salaam was under tight security yesterday as investigators questioned the chairman of the opposition CHADEMA party, Freeman Mbowe, for several hours over his call for nationwide public rallies

and demonstrations in defiance of a government ban on such political activities.

Police in full riot gear surrounded the station as Mbowe’s interrogation progressed within the building from around lunch-time. He was released about three hours later (4pm) after being granted bail by the police, according to CHADEMA’s chief legal counsel TunduLissu.

Journalists including photographers were forced to keep a big distance away from the station perimeters as members of the anti-riot squad did not allow anyone to approach the area during the whole time Mbowe was inside the building.

Police sources later said an official criminal investigation was now underway and the leader of the country's most prominent opposition party – who is also member of parliament for the Hai constituency in Kilimanjaro Region - could this week be formally charged in court with inciting violence.

Mbowe on Thursday last week declared September 1 this year as a ‘Day of Defiance” marking the start of a nationwide protest movement against what he described as President John Magufuli’s growing ‘dictatorial tendencies’.

Briefing the media on resolutions reached by CHADEMA’s central committee when it met in the city recently, he urged opposition supporters and other “well-wishers” to turn up on that day and participate in peaceful processions and rallies across the country in a bid to protect democratic gains made in the country over the past two decades that could now be in danger of being lost.

But President Magufuliresponded hardly 24 hours later with a direct warningin a public speech that he would crack down “without mercy” on any “troublemakers” bent on derailing his stated crusade to build a better life for all Tanzanians.

The following day (Saturday), Mboweissued his own written statement saying that he had been summoned by Dar es Salaam zonal crime officer CamiliusWambura to report to the central police station.

"They (police) are insisting (that I should go), but I don't why I have been summoned," the CHADEMA chairman said in the statement.

He arrived at the station at around 1 pm yesterday with an entourage of five vehicles and followed closely by a large contingent of local journalists and cameramen.

As he was ushered inside accompanied by Lissu - the Singida East member of parliament) - and private advocate John Mallya, the station was turned into a virtual fortress with fully-armed policemen and a water cannon truck blockingthe journalists and other opposition leaders from getting anywhere near.

“We do not want anyone here ... this is a police station. Move out of here immediately,” an unidentified police officer could be heard snapping at the media representatives.

CHADEMA's presidential candidate in last year’s general election, ex-prime minister Edward Lowassa, was among those who were also told in no uncertain terms to stay well away from the station.

Yesterday’s events came against the backdrop of growing criticism against Magufuli, especially from the opposition camp, that he is becoming increasingly authoritarian as he settles into his presidency.

He has been accused of undermining democracy by curbing political activity and restricting live television coverage of parliamentary sessions. But he has publicly declared that he is a dictator, although at the same time warning opposition leaders against defying theofficial ban on “petty politicking”.

"Do not test me," Magufuli told a crowd in SingidaRegion on Friday, apparently referring to the opposition, according to a statement from the presidency.

"I don't want any violence in this country ... I will deal with anyone who causes violence thoroughly and without mercy," he added.

He said he would not allow anyone to stand in his way and delay his plans for the country, asserting that Tanzanians in general want development - not political demonstrations and public rallies.