Dar es Salaam. The government Wednesday described the ongoing reports condemning the arrest of the critics of the Tanzania-Dubai intergovernmental agreement as a result of a failure by their authors to differentiate between criticism of the deal and the rule of law.
Nape Nnauye, the Minister for Information, Communication and Information Technology, said in a statement that no one has been arrested for criticising the deal approved by the parliament on June 10, 2023. Instead, those arrested have violated the country’s laws.
“The police arrested the three individuals in question for making specific public threats of a serious criminal nature, which include calling for the violent overthrow of the government of the day,” Mr Nnauye, who doubles as Mtama MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM), said.
The three individuals are a former ambassador to Tanzania Wilbrod Peter Slaa, advocate Boniface Mwabukusi, and activist Mpaluka Said Nyagali who remain in detention as they allegedly face treason charges after calling for non-stop nationwide rallies to oppose the Tanzania-Dubai deal.
“The suspects, some of whom publicly sought to incite citizens to bear arms against the Tanzania Police Force, were apprehended to send a strong message to deter any offenders from committing criminal offences,” Mr Nnauye added.
“The arrests do not, in any way, restrict freedom of expression in Tanzania, but are part of the law enforcement to prevent possible social unrest that may result from calls for a rebellion against a democratically-elected government,” he clarified.
The three people were arrested at different times last week, starting with Mwabukusi and Nyagali, who were arrested on August 12 in Morogoro while travelling to Dar es Salaam.
Dr Slaa was arrested over the weekend and reportedly detained at the Oysterbay Police Station. Emmanuel Masonga, another critic of the deal, is also missing, with his whereabouts remaining a mystery.
Wednesday’s clarification on the arrests by the government follows a decision by local and international human rights organisations to condemn them, demanding authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release all the detainees.
On Tuesday, for example, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), and Jukwaa la Katiba Tanzania (JUKATA) gave a joint statement in Dar es Salaam, condemning the “arbitrary arrests” of the deal’s critics.
“As human rights organisations, we firmly believe that every person is entitled to freedom of speech and opinion on everything happening in the country, including on the port deal because it involves national interests,” LHRC Executive Director Anna Henga said while reading the joint statement.
“People do not deserve to be threatened for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, backed by regional and international instruments to which Tanzania is a signatory,” Henga added.
The four organisations’ condemnation followed that by the global human rights organisation Amnesty International, which also called on authorities to ensure the “immediate and unconditional” release of anyone detained for their criticism of the deal.
In a statement, Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, said the government’s crackdown on critics of the port deal reveals authorities’ growing intolerance for dissent.
But Mr Nnauye brushed off these criticisms Wednesday, pointing out that no one has been arrested in the country for criticising the port deal or any other government project, plan, or programme.
He said the Samia Suluhu Hassan Administration is committed to expanding democratic and civic space in the country, as seen in its decision to reverse a ban on public rallies for political parties, and lifting the suspension on media outlets, to name but a few measures taken.
Mr Nnauye said the government would continue this commitment but pointed out that rights and freedoms come with responsibilities, urging people to refrain from “criminally dangerous and reckless rhetoric.”
“The government remains fully committed to democracy and the rule of law,” he stressed. “But will not make any compromises against breaches of law and order that may jeopardise the peace, national unity, security and safety of Tanzania that we all cherish.”