Opposition and rights activists in Tanzania have condemned the arrest of several members of the country's main opposition Chadema party, who were to hold a forum to discuss constitutional reforms. The action happened while Chadema leader Freeman Mbowe remains behind bars facing terrorism-related charges that his party has branded a bid by President Samia Suluhu Hassan's government to silence the opposition.
The condemnations came after police in Musoma, a town in Mara region in the northern part of Tanzania, Saturday arrested nine members of the main opposition Chadema party who were organizing a symposium on a new constitution.
In a post shared on Twitter, the Chadema party said it was following the incident, which it said suppresses democracy.
The statement said, “We strongly condemn this blatant violation of the constitution and rule of law, sowing the seeds of hatred, discrimination, and discord within communities,” It also protested against what the party called the “suppression of democratic rights” by police and other security forces.
Speaking with VOA, Chadema party spokesperson Coast Zone Gerva Lyenda said the ongoing unrest is motivated by their demand for a new constitution.
Lyenda said that before the demand for a new constitution, there were no arrests. He said the problem is a new constitution, it’s their right and they will fight for it. Lyenda added that Chadema would like to obtain a new constitution without bloodshed.
Chadema is challenging the current constitution which was formed under a single-party system saying it favors the ruling Revolutionary Party.
A government critic such as Bob Wangwe sees the arrests as suppressing democracy in Tanzania.
He says the police forces want to control what citizens discuss and what they can do, while the constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania grants citizens freedom and the right to discuss issues that concern them. He urges President Samia Hassan to take the issue seriously since it tarnishes the image of the country.
Police declared the Chadema gathering on constitutional reform illegal and unconstitutional, pointing to Hassan’s remark that it is time to build the economy first.
"Discussions about the constitution will be resumed after the economy becomes stable, when the president decides that the situation is good, then the symposium about the constitution will be given a permit," said Longinus Tibishubwamu, the head of police in Mara region. He added that if there is anyone trying to hold a constitutional forum now, he sees them as breaking the law.
Analysts say Hassan has started well but incidents like these show some weakness.
Political analyst Victor Kweka says there is no president who is perfect, but there are weaknesses that can be avoided. He added that if the president has good advisers, she can implement her duties in a way that will show that she really intends to have a national unity government and a country to stand together as one on economic, political and democratic matters.
Meanwhile, opposition in Tanzania is still insisting that they will be continuing with their operation to exercise their democratic rights without fear from the state apparatus. For the president, building the economy is her first priority.