Tanzania’s main opposition leader appeared in court on Tuesday to face terrorism charges in a case his party described as a politically motivated attempt to suppress dissent. Police allegedly tortured Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe in custody to force him to make a statement in the trial, which began under tight security with most journalists barred from the courtroom by police.
Mbowe has been detained since July 21, when he and several other senior Chadema officials were apprehended in a late-night police raid just hours before a public forum to demand constitutional reforms in the East African country. In a case that has raised concerns about the state of democracy and the rule of law under President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the 59-year-old has been charged with terrorism financing and conspiracy.
His lawyer, Peter Kibatala, argued that the Corruption and Economic Crimes Division of the court, where Mbowe appeared, lacked the authority to hear the case, which had previously been heard by a magistrate’s court. “The bottom line is that it cannot hear (the) terrorism case,” he said, calling for Mbowe’s release. State attorneys responded that the court had “full authority” to conduct the trial. The case against Mbowe and his three co-defendants has been postponed until Wednesday, when the court will rule on the matter, according to the court.
Mbowe went to court on Monday to file a lawsuit against top legal officials, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated during his arrest and when he was charged. According to his defense team, he was held without charge for five days before being charged without his attorney present.