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Alarm Raised on Safety of Human Rights Activist Joseph Moses Oleshangay

Oleshangay has been one of the most prominent voices opposing the controversial government exercise of moving people from Ngorongoro in what it describes as a “voluntary relocation.”

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Dar es Salaam. Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) on Thursday joined other human rights activists in Tanzania in raising the alarm over the safety of their colleague Joseph Moses Oleshangay, who has been reporting some troubles with law enforcement authorities lately.

Oleshangay, an Indigenous Maasai from Ngorongoro, has been very vocal in his opposition to the controversial government exercise of moving people from the UNESCO-inscribed world heritage site in what it describes as a “voluntary relocation.” But Oleshangay, an LHRC employee, describes the exercise as a “forceful eviction.”

He has been one of the most prominent voices denouncing the government’s plan executed under the excuse of promoting conservation, utilising both local and international mechanisms to force authorities to abandon their plans that Oleshangay thinks are motivated by nothing but profit-making.

However, Oleshangay’s unwavering commitment to fighting for his community’s rights makes him a target of unlawful and arbitrary practices perpetrated by law enforcement authorities, LHRC’s executive director Anna Henga told a press conference in Dar es Salaam.

READ MORE: Tanzania’s Activists Up in Arms Over Planned ‘Epic Tanzania Tour’ in Ngorongoro

Henga said that since 2023, the activist’s safety has been at risk, as he has been under surveillance, including receiving calls from individuals claiming to be police officers. 

“On the afternoon of March 14, [2024], for example, Joseph received information that he was being followed by individuals believed to be state agents, prompting him to take precautionary measures for his safety,” Henga told journalists.

On the night of March 15, individuals claiming to be police officers arrived at his home, questioning his wife about Oleshangay’s whereabouts without providing any further explanation, including why they were asking such questions.

“In addition to Joseph’s absence, these individuals camped outside his home from March 15 to March 18, 2024,” Henga added. “Joseph and his close relatives are still determining who is following him and why.”

Henga invited journalists’ attention to the fact that these actions, assumed to be carried out by law enforcement authorities, were preceded by a message circulated on social media urging authorities to rein in Mr Oleshangay and describing him as a “dangerous person.” 

READ MORE: Maasai People From Ngorongoro Yearn for Rights Their Fellow Tanzanians Enjoy

The threatening message mentioned LHRC, the Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Governmental Organization’s Forum (PINGO’s Forum), the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC), and Susanna Nordlund, an activist, as institutions and individuals supporting Oleshangay. 

“All these events have caused fear for Joseph and his family, as he has been hunted for a long time,” Henga told a press conference. “These threats restrict Joseph’s freedom to work as a lawyer and serve his community.”

LHRC said it will continue monitoring the situation and taking appropriate action. Henga said: “Joseph’s and his family’s safety is LHRC’s top priority, and we’ll do whatever is possible to ensure they remain safe.”

Oleshangay’s latest altercation with authorities coincided with his coronation as a leader of his community, a Laigwanan, a ceremony that police allegedly attempted to prevent from happening by banning a rally at the activist’s home in Endulen, Ngorongoro.

Despite intimidation, Mr Oleshangay’s activism and the fight for his people’s basic human rights have not gone unnoticed. In 2023, he became the first Tanzanian to receive the 2023 Weimar Human Rights Prize for his fight for the Maasai people in the country.

READ MORE: Joseph Oleshangay: Winner of Weimar Human Rights Prize Shares Future of His Activism

Organised by the city of Weimar, the prize is awarded to people, groups or organisations committed to protecting and enforcing fundamental human rights worldwide. It is given on December 10 yearly, which coincides with the United Nations’ International Human Rights Day.

Mr Oleshangay told The Chanzo late last year that despite the challenges he and his fellow activists face fighting for Maasai human rights, he hopes the persecution will one day end, allowing his people to live in peace.

“This repression will crash because it’s against the law, against human rights and known standards,” he said. “It really defies logic in displacing thousands of people and replacing them with businesses like hotels.”

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