This Sunday marks one year since police in Dar es Salaam arrested Tanzanian human rights activist Tito Magoti and his friend Theodory Giyani in violation of their basic rights.
On December 20, 2019, police lured Magoti to a meeting through phone text messages from Giyani, who had been previously arrested. The police then handcuffed and blindfolded Magoti, and then drove him away. He was held at several different police stations for five days before being charged with “economic crimes,” including money laundering and leading organized crime. The Legal and Human Rights Centre, where Magoti worked, said the police questioned Magoti about his online activism and his involvement with other rights activists and opposition members, and believe this was the reason he was arrested.
Magoti, a 27-year- old lawyer, and Giyani have since been held in Segerea Prison in Dar es Salaam pending trial. Under Tanzanian law, money laundering is non-bailable, meaning there is no possibility of release before they are tried. Their trial has been postponed 26 times, with the state yet to present any evidence against them. The prosecution says investigations have not been completed.
In August, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision that Magoti’s pre-trial detention was arbitrary and in violation of his rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Working Group called on the Tanzanian government to immediately release and compensate him.
Magoti is not the first critic of the government to face reprisals. Since 2015, under President John Magufuli, the Tanzanian government has cracked down on civil society and the media, introduced repressive laws, and arrested activists, journalists, and opposition politicians. During the October elections, the authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained scores of opposition party leaders and supporters, suspended television and radio stations, censored mobile phone communication, and blocked social media.
But Tanzanian authorities can reverse this trend. They could start by releasing Magoti and Giyani, and do more to ensure that the rights to free expression, association, and a fair trial are respected across the country.