The leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, Chadema and other members have been arrested ahead of a planned conference to demand constitutional reforms, the party has said in what it called proof that President Samia Suluhu Hassan was persisting with the authoritarianism of her late predecessor John Magufuli.
Freeman Mbowe and 10 Chadema members were rounded up in the dead of night in the northwestern port city of Mwanza, it said on Twitter early on Wednesday.
“We condemn the repression of the rights of Tanzanians with the strongest force. These are signs that the dictatorship that existed during the rule of President John Magufuli continues,” it charged.
“Freeman Mbowe was accosted by an army of police officers in his hotel when he arrived at 2:30am and was arrested together with other leaders.”
While the other Chadema members were taken to Mwanza police station, there was no information about Mbowe’s whereabouts.
“We want the police to come out and say where the chairman is and why he was arrested,” Chadema said.
The arrests followed the detention of dozens of other party members last week for holding a meeting without permission as Hassan continues on the path of her predecessor.
“We cannot continue with the old order,” Mbowe said in a video published on Twitter on Monday, dressed in a red shirt and beret.
“We have the right to meet but are arrested, beaten, accused and taken to court for two to three years and then freed.
“If they want to arrest all members of the Chadema party, let them first expand the jails because we are all ready to be arrested and will not request bail.”
Haasan, who is Tanzania’s first female President, took office in March following the sudden death of her predecessor Magufuli, the deeply Covid-sceptic African leader died in March of what the authorities said was a heart condition but his political opponents insisted he had coronavirus.
There have been high hopes that Hassan would usher in a change from the “autocratic rule” of her predecessor, who was nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising leadership style.
“Last night’s arrest of Chairman Mbowe and CHADEMA leaders has dashed any such hope,” Chadema’s former presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu, who lives in self-imposed exile in Europe, tweeted.
Tanzania has long denied opposition party accusations that its government practices authoritarianism.
In April, Hassan had reached out to the opposition and promised to defend democracy and basic freedoms in the country.