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Police Denies Reports It Blocked Forum On New Constitution in Mwanza

Organisers sought to discuss the need for the New Constitution and the controversial Tanzania-Dubai port deal.

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Dar es Salaam. Mwanza regional police commander Wilbroad Mutafungwa on Thursday denied reports circulating on social media alleging that the law enforcement agency blocked a forum to discuss the need for the New Constitution that was to take part in the city on October 4, 2023.

The forum, organised jointly by the Tanzania Constitution Forum,  the Tanzania Transparency Forum (TRAFO), and Sauti ya Watanzania, also sought to raise issues with the intergovernmental agreement between Tanzania and Dubai on the operations of the country’s ports.

The three organisations organised the forum after the thirty-day ultimatum they gave the government to cancel the controversial agreement ended. 

It was to feature prominent voices against the deal, including former ambassador Willibrod Slaa, advocates Boniface Mwabukusi and Peter Madeleka and activist-cum-politician Mdude Nyagali.

But the forum never occurred as its organisers complained that police intimidated people who were willing to rent a space for the forum, forcing them to return the money, rendering the organisers unable to hold the event.

READ MORE: Catholic Bishops Want Tanzania-Dubai Port Deal Cancelled: ‘Vox Populi, Vox Dei’

Organisers reported that space owners revealed to them to have been interrogated by the police, who inquired about the legality of the event, something which worried them and decided to return the money they had earlier received for the event.

However, during an interview with the Mwanza-based Radio SAUT FM, Mr Mutafungwa dismissed the reports as false, noting that police had not been involved “in any way” in preventing the event from happening.

He also denied reports that police arrested some people in the city who were planning to organise demonstrations following the postponement of the forum. 

The forum, which was to take place from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, was to happen almost a month since police released Dr Silaa, Mwabukusi and Nyagali, who were arrested and spent several days in custody for calling on non-stop nationwide rallies to oppose the port deal.

Their arrest came shortly after Inspector General of Police (IGP) Camilius Wambura described their calls as “seditious and treasonous,” pointing out that police would not allow a small group of people to “plunge the country into chaos.”

READ MORE: Tanzania Cries Foul Over Reports on the Arrest of DP World Port Deal Critics: ‘Gross Misrepresentation’

The three men were released only after a public uproar, which included calls from major local and international human rights groups, which called on the Samia Suluhu Hassan Administration to stop “intimidating” people for expressing their opinions.

The failure of the forum to kick off also came a few hours after Dr Silaa, who lost his ambassadorial status on September 1, 2023, told a local media outlet in Mwanza that they would organise the forum even “under a tree.”

“People should show up en masse at the forum, without any fear, because we are people of peace,” Dr Silaa promoted the forum. “We just want to mobilise people to stand up for their natural resources, which should be every Tanzanian’s mission.”

Police’s defence notwithstanding, human rights activists have accused authorities of muzzling dissident voices, reminding them of the people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights like that of assembly and expression. 

“We remind those in power that they’re servants of the people and should, therefore, respect the constitution,” wrote Maria Sarungi-Tsehai, a popular activist, in an X, formerly Twitter, post. “No one is above the law, not even the Head of State.”

READ MORE: Human Rights Defenders Speak Out In Defence of Detained DP World Deal Critics

While police denied any involvement in blocking Wednesday’s forum, the law enforcement agency is no stranger to preventing people from holding protests against the government.

On June 19, 2023, for example, police in Dar es Salaam dispersed and arrested dozens of people who showed up to protest against the Tanzania-Dubai port deal, including the demos’ leader, Deusdedith Soka.

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