The party leader of Chadema was charged with terror-related crimes after his arrest in July.
Freeman Mbowe, leader of Tanzania’s main opposition party, has appeared in court to be charged with “terrorism” in a case denounced by his supporters as a politically motivated move to suppress dissent.
The 59-year-old Chadema party leader has been behind bars since July 21 when he was arrested along with other senior party officials in a nighttime police raid just hours before they were due to hold a public forum to demand constitutional reforms.
The trial at the country’s supreme court in Dar-es-Salaam began Tuesday under tight security, with most journalists banned from the courtroom by police.
Citing COVID-19 regulations and security, the government of President Samia Suluhu Hassan had warned foreign diplomats not to go to court to follow the case without notifying the State Department.
Representatives from the British and American embassies attended the hearing, which was also attended by senior leaders from Chadema.
On Monday, Mbowe had appeared in court to bring a case against senior legal officials for alleging his constitutional rights had been violated during his arrest and when he was charged.
The opposition has denounced the arrests as a return to the oppressive rule of the late Tanzanian leader John Magufuli, who died suddenly in March.
There had been hopes that Hassan would bring a new era of democracy after Magufuli’s ever-hardening rule, but Chadema leaders say the arrests of Mbowe and his colleagues reflect an ever-deepening slide into “dictatorship.”
They accuse the government of interfering in the case and want the court to dismiss the charges.
The government denies the allegations.
Earlier this month, human rights group Amnesty International asked the government to “substantiate the charges” against Mbowe or release him.
“His arrest and continued detention appear to be a tactic to silence critical voices as part of a growing crackdown on political opposition,” Amnesty said. said in a Twitter post.
Prosecutors say the charges against Mbowe do not relate to the constitutional reform conference that Chadema planned to hold in July in the port city of Mwanza, but rather to alleged crimes last year in another part of Tanzania.
Chadema has said prosecutors are accusing Mbowe of conspiring to attack an official and giving 600,000 Tanzanian shillings ($260) for blowing up gas stations and public gatherings and cutting down trees to block roads.