Dar es Salaam. Fresh accusations of torture, humiliation and murder are rocking the Police Force amid growing demand for police reforms in Tanzania.
The latest accusations were first raised by Catherine Ruge, secretary-general of CHADEMA’s Women Wing (BAWACHA). On September 22, 2022, Ruge said in a Twitter post that police in Serengeti, Mara region shot dead four people, including her uncle.
“They arrested him [on September 21] around 7 PM while he was at his house,” Ruge reported. “By night, they took him and the three others to the bush and shot them, claiming they were robbers. We found the bodies at the mortuaries.”
On September 23, 2022, Mara regional police commander Longinus Tibishiwanu confirmed to the press the killing of the people, not four but three, describing the murder as the result of a shoot-out between the officers and the ‘robbers.’
According to a police statement, the fourth person was not killed as he managed to escape. He’s until now not been found.
Tibishiwanu named those murdered by the police as Mairo Togoro (56), a resident of Majimoto village; Mwise Simon Magabe (54), a resident of Nyamihuru; and Mugare Mokiri from the village of Nyamikobiti. All from the Serengeti district, in Mara.
“All of them died on the road while they were being rushed to the hospital,” Tibishiwanu told journalists.
But police’s explanations differ from those of the families of murdered individuals. Not only have the families denied their beloved ones were robbers but also have brought forth harrowing stories involving police brutality and humiliation.
Tabitha Mwise is a twenty-two-year-old daughter of Mwise Simon Magabe, one of the people that police murdered, who accused police officers of beating her after she failed to show them where her father’s gun was.
“They ordered both me and my father to strip naked,” Tabitha narrated to journalists on September 25, 2022. “They ordered me to sleep with my father, warning that if I decline they would kill us both. It was thanks to one police officer who intervened to stop that I didn’t end up sleeping with my father while both of us were naked.”
Marwa Mwise Simon Magabe, a son of Mwise Simon Magabe, has explained how police officers raided their house, forcing them all out to witness the beating of their father by the officers.
“We watched as police officers beat our fathers while he was all naked,” Marwa says in a video clip that has been circulating online.
“They took my sister Tabitha,” added Marwa. “They beat her, telling her to say where our father’s gun was. My sister pleaded with police not to beat her, telling them that since she was born she had never seen our father with a gun.”
In its condemnation of the incidents, CHADEMA described the murder of the three people as “extrajudicial,” saying that the Police Force is increasingly normalizing the killing of people in its attempt to show that it is working.
The party’s deputy secretary-general (Tanzania Mainland) Benson Kigaila told journalists in Dar es Salaam on September 27, 2022, that police’s timeline of events leaves a lot of questions, rendering it untrustworthy.
“For instance, how is it possible that police would take their suspects to the forest, around 2 AM, without hand-cuffing them?” asked Mr Kigaila.
“This is an important question because police say that the killings took place following a shoot-out,” he added. “Why didn’t they hand-cuff them? And if they did hand-cuff them how did the shoot-out happen?”
Kigaila said the issue needs to be properly investigated, urging authorities as well as human rights organisations in Tanzania to intervene in the matter, including by gathering testimonies from families of murdered individuals, local government officials and community members.
This is not the first time that police are accused of killing suspects at their hands. In February this year, for example, businessman Mussa Hamisi, 25, in Mtwara was reportedly killed by seven police officers after the law enforcers had allegedly robbed him of Sh70 million.
Although a committee formed to investigate the murder was submitted to Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa on February 27, 2022, the public has not been briefed about its main findings and how the government was going to implement them.
Calls for reforms
Calls for the need to reform the Tanzania Police Force received a boost on July 20, 2022, when President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced that she was going to form a special 12-member committee that would advise her on the best ways she can use to improve Tanzania’s criminal justice system.
Chaired by former Chief Justice Mohammed Chande Othman with former Chief Secretary Ombeni Sefue serving as his deputy, the committee is tasked to examine Tanzania’s criminal justice system and recommends ways to improve it.