Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe and ten other Chadema party leaders have been arrested on suspicion of inciting unauthorized assembly
According to party officials, they don’t know where Mr Mbowe is currently being held.
He was in his hotel room on Tuesday night in Mwanza, in the north-western region where he was attending party meetings, when he was detained.
Ten other leaders arrested alongside him had been taken to the Central Police Station in Mwanza, the party said.
Freeman Mbowe and 10 Chadema members were rounded up overnight in the northwestern port city of Mwanza, the party said on Twitter early on Wednesday.
“We condemn the repression of the rights of Tanzanians with the strongest force. These are signs that the dictatorship that existed during the rule of President John Magufuli continues,” it charged.
“Freeman Mbowe was accosted by an army of police officers in his hotel when he arrived at 2:30am and was arrested together with other leaders.”
While the other Chadema members were taken to the Mwanza police station, there was no information about Mbowe’s whereabouts.
“We want the police to come out and say where the chairman is and why he was arrested,” Chadema said.
According to local media in the East Africa nation, police confirmed the arrests on suspicion of inciting “unauthorised assembly”.
The opposition party has been holding a series of internal meetings in an effort to revive support and had vowed to hold a big political rally to push for the drafting of a new constitution.
The arrests come four months after Tanzania’s first female President Samia Suluhu Hassan took office in March following the sudden death of her predecessor Magufuli.
There have been high hopes that Hassan would usher in a change from the “autocratic rule” of her predecessor, who was nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising leadership style.
Chadema’s former presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu, who lives in self-imposed exile in Europe, tweeted that Hassan’s rise following Magufuli’s death in March had brought “hope that Magufuli’s reign of terror and war on democracy would end.
“Last night’s arrest of Chairman Mbowe and Chadema leaders has dashed any such hope. It’s now time for nationwide protests and international isolation of her regime.”
The arrests took place after Mbowe pledged to go ahead with a meeting on constitutional reforms despite Mwanza provincial authorities banning public gatherings to contain the spread of coronavirus.
“We cannot continue with the old order,” Mbowe said in a video published on Twitter on Monday.
“We have the right to meet but we are arrested, beaten, accused and taken to court for two to three years and then freed.
“If they want to arrest all members of the Chadema party, let them first expand the jails because we are all ready to be arrested and will not request bail.”
In April, Hassan had reached out to the opposition and promised to defend democracy and basic freedoms in the country.
In November 2020, several top opposition leaders including Mbowe were briefly detained after calling for mass protests against what they charged was a rigged election that returned Magufuli to power for a second term.
The deeply COVID-sceptic Magufuli died in March of what the authorities said was a heart condition but his political opponents insisted he had contracted the disease.
Mr Magufuli, who died in March, was accused of oppressing the opposition and curtailing press freedom.
Chadema said: “This is a clear sign that the dictatorship under the [late President John Magufuli] still continues.”
His successor and former deputy Samia Suluhu Hassan has been regarded as more conciliatory and inclusive.