Freeman Mbowe accused of terrorism

Tanzania’s main opposition leader in court to face charges

Leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, Freeman Mbowe, appeared in court to face “terrorism” charges – a case termed by his supporters “a politically motivated one”. His supporters claim that the move to chain Mbowe is aimed at crushing dissent.

The Chadema party’s 59-year-old chairman has been behind bars since July 21. He was arrested along with several other senior party officials in a police raid just hours before they were to chair a public forum to demand constitutional reforms. The trial at the country’s Dar-es-Salaam high court opened on Tuesday under tight security, where most journalists were barred from the courtroom by police.

President Suluhu Hassan’s government, citing COVID-19 restrictions and security, had instructed foreign diplomats against showing up to the court without notifying the foreign ministry. However, representatives from the British and US consulates were present at the hearing. Chadema’s senior leaders also attended the hearing.

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Freeman Mbowe and his supporters blamed the police for torturing him in custody – in a bid to break him to make a statement in the trial. The 59-year-old is charged with terror financing and conspiracy – a case that has ignited concerns about the rule of law and the state of democracy under President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

His counsel Peter Kibatala said that the court’s Corruption and Economic Crimes Division had no powers to hear the case. Mbowe appeared there for weeks after being handled by a magistrate’s court. “The main point is that it cannot hear the terrorism case,” he said, calling for Mbowe to be freed. Responding to it, the state attorney said the court had “complete authority” to pursue the trial.

The case against Mbowe and his co-defendants was postponed until Wednesday, when the court said that it will rule on the issue. Mbowe’s defense team said he was held without a single charge for five days and was then charged without his lawyer being present.