UPDATE: "UNWGAD finds Freeman Mbowe arbitrarily detained in violation of international human rights law."
On September 15, 2021, Mr. Oliver Windridge, an international lawyer recruited by the American Bar Association, Center for Human Rights, under its Justice Defenders Program, filed a communication to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of imprisoned Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe.
Mr. Mbowe is the leader of Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Party of Democracy and Progress), also known as Chadema. He was arrested in the early morning hours of July 21, 2021, ahead of a planned party meeting on constitutional reform in Tanzania. As detailed in the petition, Mr. Mbowe was arrested without a warrant, driven for 18 hours, over 1000 kilometers, from Mwanza to Dar es Salaam, and held in incommunicado detention for five (5) days. During this time, he was denied access to a lawyer and to his family and not informed of the charges he was facing. On July 26, he appeared before the Kisutu Magistrate Court where he was charged with conspiracy and the provision of funds to commit terrorist acts under Tanzania’s Economic and Organized Crime Control Act and its Prevention of Terrorism Act, respectively. Because he is facing terrorism-related charges, Mr. Mbowe was automatically denied the right to apply for bail pending trial under Section 148(5) of Tanzania’s Criminal Procedure Act. He remains detained as he awaits his trial.
Following Mr. Mbowe’s arrest, several human rights organizations and governments expressed concern that his arrest was a continuation of an ongoing crackdown on opposing voices in Tanzania. Mr. Mbowe’s recent arrest is not the first time that the authorities have detained and prosecuted him in relation to his activities as an opposition leader and vocal critic of the government. Mr. Mbowe has in the past also been the victim of physical attacks, which his party alleges were politically motivated.
The communication argues that Mr. Mbowe’s pre-trial detention is arbitrary under international human rights law for the following reasons: (i) the manner of his arrest and incommunicado detention for five days was a violation of recognized due process rights; (ii) the automatic denial of bail without due regard for the individual circumstances of Mr. Mbowe’s case under Section 148(5), is a violation of the presumption of innocence; and (iii) the timing of the arrest of Mr. Mbowe, the manner of his arrest and Tanzania’s record of repression, strongly points to Mr. Mbowe’s case being politically motivated in violation of Tanzania’s regional and international human rights obligations.