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Judge withdraws from the case against Tanzania’s Opposition leader Freeman Mbowe

Freeman Mbowe – CHADEMA opposition party Chair

Tanzania’s High Court Division of Corruption and Economic Sabotage on Wednesday dismissed all objections filed by the defense team representing the country’s opposition leader Freeman Mbowe and three others, and ruled in favor of the State, in a minor case that had emanated from the primary one. The defense team last month asked the Court not to admit a statement made last year by Adam Kasekwa while in police custody; the State legal team had submitted it as evidence in the minor case. The defense argued that it was submitted outside the legal time frame and additionally, collected from the suspect under torture.
What left the defense counsel disgruntled with the ruling is the fact that immediately after delivering the ruling, the presiding Judge Mustapha Siyani announced his decision to withdraw from the case; he said he had responsibilities that would make him unable to carry on with the case.

How the minor case emerged

Tanzania’s Regional Police Commander APC Ramadhani Kingai in one of the proceedings late last month, told the court that last year he recorded Adam Kasekwa’s statement upon being apprehended; Kingai later went ahead to ask the court to admit the statement as evidence. However his request was strongly opposed by lead defense counsel Peter Kibatala, who asked the court not to admit the statement saying it was not made voluntarily.

The defense lawyers claimed the accused gave the statement amid torture under the supervision of Kingai. Kasekwa would in subsequent proceedings be grilled in court over the allegations of torture and indeed the court would hear of a horrifying account; he testified that while under police custody he suffered torture, including a gunshot wound and being moved in between different police stations.

What is causing concern over the withdrawal of the presiding judge?

The presiding judge withdrew from the case after ruling in favor of the State legal team, despite last month’s shocking accounts of torture that two of the accused alleged underwent while in police custody last year. However, in addition to this, another event that further raises concern is this, a recent cabinet reshuffle by the current President Samia Suluhu.

The previous presiding judge, Eliezer Feleshi, who withdrew from the case after the defense team claimed he would likely not deliver a fair trial, was recently appointed as the country’s new Attorney General. More than this, the judge who later took over the case, Judge Mustafa Siyani, was also at the same time appointed the High Court Principal Judge; before, he was a judge in-charge of the High Court in Dodoma Zone.  Additionally, the vacancy Siyani has filled was previously held by Judge Felshi.

Current state of events

The withdrawal from the case by the recently appointed presiding judge, Mustafa Siyani, remains a concern for the defense counsel. There is also a feeling within the country’s opposition that there may be individuals seeking to interfere with the outcome of the case.

CHADEMA opposition party’s chair, Freeman Mbowe and others were arrested a day before they were set to hold talks on the push for the long awaited constitutional reforms in the country.

The party’s Secretary General John Mnyika, told reporters that he was not satisfied with the decision handed down Wednesday by the Judge, saying it left footprints of what he says appears to be a move to further extend a political attack on the party’s chair, Freeman Mbowe. Mbowe, Adam Kasekwa and two others, are facing charges related to Economic Sabotage and Terrorism.

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