Tanzanian prosecutors have dropped terrorism charges against opposition leader Freeman Mbowe and three others who were released Friday after being held for eight months. Tanzanian police arrested the four last year in the port city of Mwanza where Mbowe was to address a meeting to discuss constitutional reforms.
Supporters of Mbowe’s Chadema party and others who were following the case cheered and sang solidarity songs outside the High Court’s Division of Corruption and Economic Sabotage.
Mbowe and his colleagues were set to appear in court Friday, after a court decision two weeks ago that the four defendants had to face terrorism charges.
Peter Kibatala, head of Mbowe’s defense team, said he was happy to see his client released.
“We are very proud that we have not let them down. I believe even relatives, neighbors, and friends of the accused, including Freeman Mbowe, have seen that there is no one we have let down…. We have left our strength and everything at the court,” Kibatala said.
Rights activists welcomed Mbowe’s release but said more needs to be done to address human rights issues in the country, such as laws that allow suspects to be jailed before investigations into their alleged crimes are completed.
Anna Henga, executive director for the NGO Legal and Human Rights Center, said often people are being put behind bars with little to no evidence against them.
“When I was given the reports, I was, like, there is no case here because there was no strong evidence to put him on trial with terrorism charges,” Henga said.
U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Donald Wright welcomed the news on Twitter, saying it is a welcome opportunity for Tanzania to turn the page and focus on the future.
Political analysts like Abdulkarim Atiki say the Mbowe’s release reflects positively on President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s government. But Atiki said it is time for Tanzania to avoid the improper jailing of people for months on end.
He said, if someone is to be charged, then the government and investigators should be satisfied there is truth in the accusations directed to someone. But, he added, if someone is kept behind bars, how can you revise the image? How are you going to return his rights which have been denied?
Party supporters like Deogratius Mahinyila say the decision to release Mbowe is the right one, but highlights the injustice Mbowe faced.
“We see that this decision has been delayed but also in a legal sense, it makes us as a nation see that we need a new constitution," Mahinyila.
Chadema party officials weren’t immediately available for comment, and Mbowe did not speak to reporters after his release.