The need for revision of the Preventive Detention Act (see Bulletin No.15) was raised by Members of Parliament during the debate on the estimates of the Ministry of Justice during the budget session in July, 1982. The questioning of the operation of this law follows a Faculty of Law Symposium reported in the Bulletin. The Minister, The Hon. Julie C. Manning, MP, promised to investigate the possibility of reconsidering the law.
A recent broadcast in the BBC African Service and a similar report in the Guardian based on interviews with lawyers, government officials, diplomats and former detainees by Martha Honey claimed that, while Tanzania has had no political prisoners since about 1978, the detention law is being widely used against economic saboteurs and other criminals. Those suspected of crimes who cannot be prosecuted, either because of insufficient evidence, or the fear that they will bribe their way out of conviction, are detained for periods similar to the sentences they would have received if they had been convicted. The report also claims that this system, which aims to bypass corruption and inefficiency in the legal system, has produced its own rackets and that government officials, including ministers, have sometimes been demanding bribes in return for granting visits by families and obtaining the release of detainees. On occasions it is said that the President’s orders have been delayed or ignored by prison and police officers seeking bribes.
There are no official figures of the number of people detained, but recently released detainees have estimated that the figure is about 1,500. Prison conditions are over-crowded, but ex-detainees admit that cases of physical abuse are rare. In addition, there are thought to be several thousand habitual violent criminals detained under comparatively mild conditions in remote farming settlements.
Members of Parliament were concerned about the levels of the salaries of magistrates and judges, which were so low that many were leaving the judicial service. The shortage of magistrates is adding to the problems caused by the inefficient and at times corrupt administration of the lower courts. The Minister is pledged to fight bribery and has asked for the cooperation of all in reporting cases, promising to continue her policy of dismissing anyone known to have accepted a bribe.
Tanzania has now signed the Organisation of African Unity Convention on Human and People’s Rights, which prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Tanzania is the twelfth state to sign the convention. When a majority of the 26 members have signed, the OAU will be empowered to establish a commission to protect human rights in Africa.
(Sources: BBC African Service; Tanzanian Broadcasting Service; The Guardian for 18th. November, 1982; article by Anaclet Rwegayura in New Africa for November, 1982)