By Kwanta Douglas –
Tanzania’s biggest opposition leader, who is on trial for terrorism, alleged in court Monday that he had been tortured in jail and made to produce a confession by police, according to his lawyer.
Freeman Mbowe has been detained since July 21, when he and several senior Chadema party officials were apprehended only hours before a planned meeting to urge constitutional revision.
The 59-year-old has been charged with terrorism financing and conspiracy in a case that has raised concerns among rights groups and Western countries about Tanzania’s new President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, about the state of democracy.
Mbowe’s lawyer, Peter Kibatala, claimed Mbowe and his three co-defendants accused prosecutors of reading trumped-up charges when they appeared in court in Dar es Salaam on Monday.
“They told the court that they were tortured and humiliated and forced to record such statements,” Kibatala told journalists after the hearing.
“These were not their voluntary statements.”
The case against Mbowe and his co-accused will be moved to the High Court, but no date for a new hearing has been established.
Last Monday, Hassan’s government advised foreign diplomats from going to court to watch the case without first informing the foreign ministry, citing Covid-19 laws and security.
Instead, the diplomats have been told to monitor the situation through the media.
There had been hopes Hassan would bring about a new era of democracy after the increasingly autocratic rule of Magufuli, nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising style.
But Chadema leaders say the arrests of Mbowe and his colleagues reflect a deepening slide into “dictatorship.”
They have accused the government of meddling in the case and want the court to dismiss the charges and declare a mistrial.
Prosecutors say the allegations against Mbowe do not relate to the constitutional reform conference Chadema had planned to hold in the port city of Mwanza, but to alleged offences last year in another part of Tanzania.
Chadema said prosecutors accuse Mbowe of conspiring to attack a public official, and giving 600,000 Tanzanian shillings ($260 / 220 euros) towards blowing up petrol stations and public gatherings and cutting down trees to block roads.