by Ben Taylor
The criminal trial of Freeman Mbowe, leader of the opposition party Chadema, continued throughout late 2021, providing several dramatic twists and turns. Mbowe and three co-accused are on trial for terrorism and economic sabotage, facing six counts including conspiring to blow up fuel stations, endanger national security and cause alarm. They vehemently deny the charges and say they are politically motivated.
In September, the judge hearing the case, Judge Elinaza Luvanda, stepped down after Mbowe told the court that he and his three co-accused had lost trust in the judge’s ability to conduct the trial fairly. They cited online claims that Judge Luvanda was an active member of the intelligence service TISS. His replacement, Judge Mustapha Siyani, only lasted a few weeks in the role, before stepping down after President Samia Suluhu Hassan appointed him as Principal Judge of the High Court of Tanzania.
Also in September, tension developed outside the courthouse when court officials denied entry to the court to Mbowe’s supporters. The situation was resolved – though not to the satisfaction of all involved – when the court allowed some supporters to enter after being searched and having surrendered their mobile phones.
Amid much legal wrangling, some details of the case against the accused have been provided. The prosecution has alleged that, between May 1 and August 1, 2020 at the Aishi Hotel in Moshi Municipality, Kilimanajaro Region, and also at different places in Dar es Salaam, Morogoro and Arusha regions, the accused persons conspired to blow up fuel stations, to blow up public gatherings and disrupt political stability, constitutional order and the national economy, and to bring the good name of the United Republic of Tanzania into disrepute.
The Kinondoni Regional Police Commander and Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Ramadhani Kingai, read out a statement signed by one of the co-accused, Adamu Hassan Kasekwa, in which Kasekwa admitted to his involvement in all the offences and listed his co-accused. In court, however, Kasekwa asserted that his confession had been obtained through torture.
ACP Kingai also stated that police search had found various items including uniforms for Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF), a notebook containing maps and names of petrol stations that the accused had planned to blow up as well as market details including the market of Kilombero.
In December, the leader of the ACT Wazalendo opposition party, Zitto Kabwe, asked President Hassan to intervene to secure the release of Mr Mbowe.
Tundu Lissu, deputy chair of Chadema, took issue with Kabwe’s approach, however. He insisted that opposition parties should not be engaging with any meeting organised by either the Registrar of Political Parties or the police until the government establishes a conducive environment for dialogue and Mr Mbowe is released. “We cannot agree to go to dialogue with the government when they have not fulfilled the basic minimum of what we have been requesting for Zanzibar or Tanzania Mainland,” he said.
A meeting to discuss the state of democracy was held in early December, organised by the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) and attended by leaders including Chadema’s secretary general, John Mnyika, Philip Mangula of CCM, James Mbatia of NCCR, and Ibrahim Lipumba of CUF.
Mr Kabwe, who also serves as the chair of TCD, said that the meeting called on Mr Mangula to take up Mbowe’s issue to the President and request that it be dropped because it was not in the public interest.
Mbowe has been in police custody and later remand prison since July 2021.