A Dar es Salaam court was busy for two days last week as the case brought up by the state against opposition leaders continues.
On the witness seat at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court was a policeman, corporal Charles, appearing for the prosecution, who was at pains to link the accused to some of the crimes among the 11 counts, including illegal assembly and staging a demonstration with intent to mobilise citizens into committing a crime.
The prosecution had told the court that the leaders uttered seditious words at Buibui grounds when winding up campaigns for parliamentary by-elections for Kinondoni constituency that could cause public violence.
Video recordings of the meeting were presented before the court and during cross-examination by defence counsel Peter Kibatala, in presence of a state attorney Wankyo Simon, the witness conceded that they did not indicate the accused had staged a demonstration or attacked the police.
The accused are Chadema national chairman Freeman Mbowe, the party’s secretary general Dr Vincent Mashinji, John Mnyika, deputy secretary general (Mainland) and Salum Mwalimu, deputy secretary General (Zanzibar).
Others are Peter Msigwa MP for Iringa Urban, Halima Mdee, MP for Kawe, John Heche, MP for Tarime Rural, Ester Bulaya, MP for Bunda Urban and the MP for Tarime Urban, Ester Matiko.
They are all charged with conspiracy to commit offences, unlawful assembly, rioting after proclamation, raising discontent and ill-will for unlawful purposes, sedition and inciting the commission of offences between February 1 and 16, 2018 in Dar es Salaam.
The case continues, and it is one of the political hurdles the Tanzanian opposition is grappling with.
The opposition is facing a recently enacted Political Parties Act, 2019 which they say appears meant to block opposition and civil society organisations from performing most of their basic functions ahead of the 2020 polls.
They say that the legislation gives the Registrar of Political Parties excessive discretionary powers, affecting autonomy and breaching confidentiality in their affairs.
They content that the Act should have provided for the establishment of an independent Political Parties Disputes Tribunal with judicial powers to hear and decide on all disputes within political parties.
But CSOs hail some amended sections in the Act, including those prohibiting political parties from forming militia and paramilitary groups.
The parties filed a petition at the East African Court of Justice in April to stop its enforcement, maintaining that it violated human rights contrary to the Tanzania Constitution, Leadership Ethics and the Universal Human Rights Declaration.
However, the court declined to grant the orders in absence of the government.