More than a hundred Tanzanian civil society groups raised their voices on Wednesday against “unprecedented” violations of human and democratic rights under the government of President John Magufuli.
In a rare act of public solidarity, 105 organisations signed a statement warning of “multiple cases (of rights violations), unprecedented in (Tanzania’s) history” involving “attacks, torture and forced disappearances of rights activists, journalists, political leaders and even ordinary citizens”.
They warned of “tension within the country, involving violations of both the freedom of the press and of expression” and raised fears about the “suffocation of democracy” through “by-elections stained by irregularities, and bloodshed that endangers national peace”.
Central to their concerns was the attempted murder in September of senior opposition lawmaker Tundu Lissu, who is currently in a Brussels hospital.
Lissu was shot at his home in the capital Dodoma and rushed to the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where he was in intensive care for several months. His Chadema party have accused the government of trying to assassinate him.
The statement also cited the case of Tanzanian journalist Azory Gwanda, who disappeared in November after reporting on a string of murders of officials, as well as last week’s shooting of a 22-year-old student who died on a bus as police sought to put down a nearby political demonstration.
The groups called for an independent electoral commission to be established ahead of the country’s next elections in 2020, as well as an independent body made up of representatives from civil society, media and religious groups to investigate incidents that marred the last round of polls.
“It would be a serious error to hand such an inquiry to the police who were behind these incidents,” they said, urging the the country’s law enforcement to “stop taking sides” and not resort to “the excessive use of force”.
Nicknamed the Bulldozer, Magufuli came to power in 2015 as a corruption-fighting “man of the people”.
But he has been increasingly criticised over his authoritarian leadership style, with detractors saying he has clamped down on opposition as well as freedom of expression.