Picket staged for human rights against Tanzanian government

December 1st, 2017
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The Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) together with the Community of Health Services and Advocacy and Lawyers for Human Rights, staged a picket outside the Tanzania High Commission in Pretoria.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), together with Community Health Services and Advocacy (CHESA) and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), staged a picket outside the Tanzania High Commission in Pretoria demanding the release of the 13 people who were arrested in Tanzania in October, for allegedly promoting homosexuality.

ISLA and CHESA released a joint statement that said the arrest of the 13 people came after a legal consultation that was held by ISLA and CHESA, was raided by Tanzanian police. The statement added that the consultation was convened in order to receive instructions and evidence on a case that the organisation planned to file before court, which would challenge the government’s decision to limit the provision of certain health services that it had previously provided.

ISLA and CHESA said the 13 people who were detained, were granted bail without being charged, however, the bail was later revoked without a valid reason. The two organisations said the mischaracterisation of a legal consultation where legal practitioners and their clients were discussing a specific case to be referred to court was unfortunate. ISLA and CHESA added that police had a copy of the concept note and the agenda of the consultation. Three lawyers and ISLA’s Executive Director, Sibongile Ndashe, were part of the group that was detained.

ISLA’s Executive Director, Sibongile Ndashe’s, mother Winnie Ndashe joined the picket asking for her daughter and 12 other people who were detained in Tanzania to be freed.

Ms Ndashe’s mother, Winnie Ndashe, joined the picket pleading for the safe return of her daughter and those arrested with her. She said that she was worried and scared for her daughter as she is being detained in a foreign country.

CHESA and ISLA pointed out that Art 30(3) in the Tanzanian Constitution enshrined the right to seek legal redress when fundamental rights have been violated.

The organisations added that in Art 7(a) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Tanzania is a signatory to, recognises an individual’s right to an appeal to competent national organs against acts violating their fundamental rights as recognised and guaranteed by conventions, laws and customs in force. ‘We view this as an attempt to intimidate citizens from approaching judicial institutions when their rights have been violated to create an environment where lawyers are afraid to provide legal presentation and ultimately create an environment where it is unthinkable to hold the state accountable for human rights violations,’ the statement said.

They added: ‘There is no legal basis for these proceedings. We call upon Tanzanian authorities to discontinue the ongoing persecution of lawyers and their clients, [and] allow citizens to access legal representation without intimidation and to allow the foreign nationals whose passports have been seized to leave the country.’

National Director of LHR, Jacob van Garderen, said Tanzanian authorities were abusing the rights and freedom of human rights activists. He said that social activist societies and LHR practitioners were concerned about how governments, such as Tanzania, were closing down the space for civil society to participate in public life, including the right to advocate for a better society, rule of law, democracy and freedom.

Mr van Garderen said governments, such as Tanzania, should stop abusing criminal procedures to close down on human rights activism. He pointed out that should the Tanzanian government not give in to their demands, activist voices will become even stronger and they will mobilise support not only in South Africa, but on the continent and internationally. He added that every legal strategy will be explored to compel the Tanzanian government to release the detainees and to expose the government for the abuse that they conduct.

Tanzanian officials allowed Mrs Ndashe, accompanied by veteran activist, Burnie Sexwale, to enter the Tanzanian High Commission and hand over a memorandum of demands. The memorandum was signed by officials as an acknowledgment that it was received.

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) also released a statement condemning the arrest. ‘We join our colleagues at ISLA and Lawyers for Human Rights in calling on Tanzanian authorities to release those arrested immediately. We understand there to be no legal basis for the arrests. We agree with the many institutions that have voiced their outrage that these proceedings appear to be an attempt to intimidate citizens from approaching judicial institutions when their rights have been violated, and also an attempt to instill fear among lawyers who wish to assist them. As our colleagues have said, this ultimately creates an atmosphere where it is impossible to hold the state accountable for human rights violations,’ said LSSA Co-chairpersons Walid Brown and David Bekker.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Dec) DR 16.

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