On Friday, various persons flocked the gates of Tanzania’s High Court early morning, to at least secure entry into the court room. The dedication of the various supporters of Tanzania’s main opposition party, CHADEMA, and family members of the party’s chair Mr Freeman Mbowe and three other defendants could not be equaled to that of the State lawyers and judge presiding over the case who arrived hours late for the ongoing proceedings.
In an unexpected turn of events on Thursday, activities at the High Court were not as usual, as the court’s leadership directed that only a certain number of lawyers, relatives and security officers be allowed to attend the proceedings; this was not the case on Friday morning as everyone was allowed entry into the courtroom.
The proceedings this week have seemed to be marred with various inconveniences and delays that affected the commencement or smooth flow of activities at the court.
In fact in a new twist of events emerging on Friday, the High Court Judge for the Division of Corruption and Economic Sabotage, Mustafa Siyani adjourned the case for 15 minutes to reflect on the Advocacy System being used by the defense team to represent its clients. This is after the defendants’ attorneys led by counsel Peter Kibatala, opted to change the style of representing their clients where previously it was the Panel representing all defendants; the defense placed a request to be allowed for each defendant to have his own Advocates.
The request raised legal arguments from the Prosecution, Defense and Judiciary on the avoidance of the interaction of First State Witness Ramadhan Kingai against the Second Defendant, Adam Kasekwa. Given the tension, Judge Siyani said the matter was of serious concern.
What happened in Thursday’s court proceedings?
Reflecting on Thursday’s events at the court, flaring tension had led to the delay of the commencement of court proceedings. The delay emerged after the court’s leadership issued a statement directing that only a specified number of lawyers, journalists, relatives of defendants and security officers be allowed into the courtroom, and that non be allowed to enter with their mobile phones.
The court’s move led to a stand-off at the gates of the High Court, leaving some lawyers of the defendants, relatives, and other persons locked out.
The demand by the court meant that some defense lawyers would not attend the proceedings, something that did not augur well with the defense team. It was said that the court in its explanation, claimed that having mobile phones in the courtroom bore a negative impact on the court proceedings.
The panel of lawyers representing Mbowe and the three other defendants held a spirited protest against the directive to bar persons from entering the courtroom, leading the situation to persist for the better part of the morning.
“People are still barred from entering the Court. The judiciary should do justice to this so that we can continue with the activities of the Judiciary …“
lawyer representing Freeman Mbowe and his three colleagues, Peter Kibatala said.
Lead defense counsel Mr Kibatala, disgruntled about the situation, added that there was no law that allows for any court to bar persons from entering a courtroom to witness proceedings of any case, and more so of one that is of public interest.
“The function of the Executive (Executive) axis is to enforce the laws enacted by parliament and interpreted by the courts. The axis of governance cannot enforce a law that does not exist. There is no law that prevents people from witnessing the proceedings in court…” lawyer representing Freeman Mbowe and his three colleagues, Peter Kibatala.
As the stand-off at the High Court persisted, Mbowe and the three others were whisked to another section of the court as a compromise was being negotiated. His party’s supporters and family members however did not relent from their demands to be allowed entry into the court; they opted to camp at the gate.
Meanwhile Various CHADEMA party members, and Tanzanians in great fury, took to social media to protest over the court’s move.
.The party’s Vice Chair, Mr.Tundu Lissu, among those protesting the move on social media, on his twitter page accused the institution of behaving like a hostage court.
“The court that conducts the case in the dark is not an independent court. The court that interferes with the police as to who should enter and who should not enter the court to hear the case is a hostage court. We will meet shortly and give our Party’s position on this. We will not allow this case to be run in secret!” said Tundu Lissu.
Mr Lissu, further reacted in a consecutive tweet demanding that the court allows people in without restrictions, to hear what he termed as a historic case.
“The court must allow people to hear this historic case without any unnecessary restrictions. People must come in with a telephone to keep us informed of what is going on in court. It is our right to know. The dark court is not a free or fair court. We want a free and fair court…” Tundu Lissu, Vice Chairman CHADEMA said.
Meanwhile as uproar was swelling at the High Court and on social media, Mbowe’s lawyers led by the defense counsel Mr Kibatala, went ahead to take the matter to the court registrar, who later overturned the decision to bar anyone from entering the courtroom, and in addition, with their mobile phones. The proceedings would begin hours later, with a State witness taking the stand, in this case the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Ramadhani Kingai who was presenting further evidence against Mbowe and the other defendants.
On Wednesday Mr Kingai told the court in Dar es Salaam that Freeman Mbowe, sought recruitment of retired or expelled army commandos to carry out acts of terrorism in various part of Tanzania. Mr. Kingai, who is also the country’s Kinondoni Regional Police Commander (RPC), further alleged that sometime in July 2020, he received a phone call directing him to report to the office of the former Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI), Mr Robert Boaz, for some consultations. He later added that at the DCI’s office, he was introduced to a Lieutenant Denis Urio whom, according to Mr Boaz, had crucial information about planned criminal acts.
“Lieutenant Urio told us of a special criminal group that was being coordinated by Mr Freeman Mbowe with the intention of harming government leaders. He told us the group was planning to blow up fuel stations and markets, and block vehicles on highways so that they could conduct robberies,” claimed ACP Kingai.
Mr Kingai, would also later Wednesday tell the court, that the second accused person Adam Hassani Kasekwa was also allegedly found in possession of a pistol with three rounds of ammunitions and 58 pellets of narcotic drugs.
He said that he was the one who recorded the statement of Kasekwa, and went ahead to ask the court to admit it as evidence.
The request was strongly opposed by lead defense counsel Peter Kibatala who asked the court not to admit the statement because it was not made voluntarily.
The lawyers claimed the accused gave the statement after he was tortured under the supervision of Mr Kingai. Mr Kibatala also asked the court to reject the statement because it was not taken within the time prescribed by law; he argued that while Mr Kasekwa was arrested on August 5, 2020 in Moshi, Kilimanjaro Region, his statement was recorded two days later (August 7, 2020).
The law requires that cautioned statement of an accused person be recorded within eight hours after his or her arrest.
The Case No. 16/2021 against CHADEMA chairman Freeman Mbowe and the three others was adjourned Thursday with the State having only one witness taking the stand, in this case, ACP Ramadhan Kingai.
The court proceedings are underway (Friday), where Mr Mbowe and three others are standing trial over terrorism-related charges and economic sabotage.