TANZANIA: ARREST OF 36 HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AT TACCEO ELECTION OBSERVATION CENTER
04 NOVEMBER 2015
The Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) has recently received the shocking news of the arrest of 36 Human rights Defenders (HRDs) and the confiscation of Computer and other devices belonging to Tanzanian Civil Society Consortium on Election Observation (TACCEO).
TACCEO and the Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC) were granted official permission by the National Election Commission (NEC) to observe Elections Campaigns and National Election all over the country.
On 29th October, Police officers raided the LHRC Monitoring Center, operating under the umbrella of TACCEO, and confiscated 24 computers, 3 laptops, 25 office digital phone’s and staffs’ and volunteers’ personal phones. The invasion to LHRC office was without any warrant. They suspected TACCEO Monitoring Centre of publishing election results which is mandate given to NEC.
After several hours of search and seizure Police officer informed the staff that they were charged of publishing false information contrary to section 16 of the Cyber crime Act 2015 and arrested 36 HRDs, part ot of the Election Monitoring Center staff.
All the HRDs are out with bail, however all devices are still under the custody of Police.
In light of this concerning situation, Protection International urges the Tanzania authorities to follow the due process of the law even as they carry out their investigations.
For more information on this case, please read the following press release by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition
THE INVASION AND ARREST OF ELECTION OBSERVERS AT TACCEO ELECTION OBSERVATION CENTRE
1 st/11/ 2015
We member organizations of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), vehemently condemn the act of the Tanzania Police Force to invade, arrest and seize office and personal electronic equipments of TACCEO Election Observation Team whose secretariat is Legal and Human Rights Center (LHRC).
The Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRD-Coalition) is a non-government, non-partisan organization of caring and dedicated people committed to promoting the rights of HRDs in Tanzania. THRDC is composed of more than 120 CSOs with its main function of defending human rights defenders in Tanzania to attain their legal recognition, building their capacity and defending them in a variety of ways especially when their rights are violated because of their role in the society.
The incident happened on 29th October 2015 at 2:30PM at TACCEO Election Observation Center, Kawe Beach Dar es salaam. During the invasion, the police searched the office from 2:30 – 7:30 PM and a total of 36 Staff and Volunteers were arrested and later on, after a long interrogation, bailed out at the Central Police Station. All the suspects are due to appear in court on 2nd November 2015 if initial investigation indicates any offenses as per Cyber Crimes Act of 2015. The Police claimed that the Observers were arrested under Article 16 of the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 having committed an offense of collecting and disseminating election results contrary to Election Act which stipulates that the institution with the mandate to announce the election results is the National Election Commission; and not any political party or any other institution.
Nevertheless, the invaded Center was not involved in Parallel Votes Tabulation. On contrary, the center was set to receive a variety of information on election process from Election Observers in different regions. It should also be noted that collection of results which have already been publicized at the polling stations is not an offence and we thus call on our THRDC members to in future collect such date/information. During the invasion, all the office and personal equipment were seized including 3 laptops, 24 desktop computers, 25 office phones and 36 personal mobile phones. Upon receiving such information, THRDC contacted top police Officials on the incident only to realize that the Officials were unaware of the arrest and invasion.
The Coalition strongly condemn the arrest of TACCEO Staff and Volunteers and the seizure of their working equipment since all constitutional and legal requirements pertaining election observation were met including TACCEO entitlement to Certificate of Approval to perform Election Observation and Identification Cards for Observers as issued by the National Electoral Commission (NEC).
The Coalition is deeply concerned about the incident as the Center has been performing the same role in the previous elections and released Election Reports identifying strengths and weaknesses arising from the election processes thus provided recommendations.
TACCEO has however, never announced election results or disseminated false or seditions information. It should be noted that CSOs in Tanzania started following up on the election process since the start of Voters Registration, nominations within political parties and campaigns. Unexpectedly, this incident is the second after two TACCEO Voters Registration Observers in Njombe Region were invaded in a hotel and battered by the Police.
The two Observers namely Humphrey Josia and Wilson Raphael on 7th March 2015 at 10:40 PM while in room number 5 at Netho Guest House writing a daily voters registration observation report were invaded by 6 armed Police Officers, battered mercilessly and suspected of robbery. Such acts by police are contrary to International Conventions especially International Covenant on Civil and political Rights of 1966 (Articles 9, 19 and 25) to which Tanzania is a signatory, African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Articles 6&9) as well as Tanzania Constitution of 1977 Articles 8, 15, 16, 21 and 22.
Moreover, police suspecting that TACCEO collects and announces election results is clearly not a voluntary act but a result of pressure from politicians especially those who participated in the election process. Our credible investigation indicates that there were a lot of communication between different government institutions including Directorate of CSOs of the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children. Those indicators pose a major threat towards the future of CSOs in the country.
We call on,
•The Police and other state organs
To refuse being misused by some political parties/politicians since such acts deny civilians their basic right of public participation and hamper freedom of CSOs in executing their duties. Also, Police and other state organs should abide with the principles of democracy and rule of law as well as respecting international conventions to which Tanzania is a signatory so that peace and tranquility is maintained in the country.
•Local and International Election Observers and United Nations Observer Mission in Tanzania
To continue advising and intervening especially on violations of law and human rights emerging in the 2015 election process which in different ways impede democracy in the country.
•Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)
To unite together especially at this time to defend the right and role of CSOs in the growth of democracy and good governance in the country; the role which is apparently squeezed by state organs. We also advise them to be cautious as HRDC has credible information suggesting due oppressive strategies against CSOs in the near future.
It should be noted that, we are Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Tanzania, organized and recognized legally and work on various legal, social, economic, political and cultural issues. Together, we oversee and argue for the rule of law and human rights and development for betterment of the lives of Tanzanians in all spheres of life. In the light of that, we have a responsibility of reproaching and call on the state organs to work objectively and justly.
As a matter of fact and principle, CSOs in Tanzania as defenders and overseers of democracy, good governance and human rights, are not affiliated to any political party, politician or election candidate and our main objective is not to take control of the state/government. We should not forget that the election is made successful by various stakeholders including CSOs, security organs, religious leaders, media and government institutions such as the National Electoral Commission. Therefore, the use of security organs to protect other stakeholders while oppressing and preventing others from performing their responsibilities is unbearable and should be halted.
Issued on 1st November 2015 Onesmo Olengurumwa, National Coordinator, Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)