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Tanzania's opposition leader Freeman Mbowe charged with terrorism

Tanzania Chadema party chairman Freeman Mbowe (C) arrives at the party's headquarters after being released from Segerea prison in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on March 13, 2020.   -  
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ERICKY BONIPHACE/AFP or licensors

Tanzania

A court in Tanzania has charged the leader of the main opposition party with terrorism-related offenses, following his arrest that drew international concern and criticism of the country's new president.

Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe was detained last week along with 15 other members of the party in a late-night crackdown government critics said bore the hallmarks of the oppressive rule of the country's late leader.

State prosecutor Ester Martin said Mbowe had been charged with two counts of "economic sabotage", crimes that do not allow for bail in Tanzania.

"These are terrorism financing and terrorism conspiracy," she told reporters late Monday.

Chadema said Mbowe had been charged in Kisutu court with terrorism crimes without his family or lawyers present.

The party chairman and the other Chadema officials were arrested in the Lake Victoria port city of Mwanza last Wednesday ahead of a planned public meeting to demand constitutional reform.

Mbowe was transferred to a prison in Dar es Salaam where police said he was being held "for plotting terrorism acts including to kill government leaders".

Six others charged

Laptops and other devices were seized during a search of his home in the city.

State prosecutors, however, said the terrorism charges against Mbowe did not relate to his planned activities in Mwanza but alleged offenses that occurred last year in a different part of Tanzania.

"Mbowe knew that he was being investigated for terrorism, and he left to Mwanza after knowing that he would be arrested," police spokesman David Misime said late Monday.

Six others were also being charged with the same offenses, he added. The case will be mentioned next in court on August 5.

Chadema said Mbowe's family and lawyers were told he was being transferred to hospital for health checks but was instead "taken to the court quietly" and charged without any of his legal representatives present.

The charges come four months after Tanzania's first female President Samia Suluhu Hassan took office following the sudden death in March of John Magufuli, under whose autocratic rule such clampdowns on the opposition were frequent.

Hassan had reached out to the opposition and vowed to defend democracy and basic freedoms, spurring optimism that Tanzania would be steered away from the heavy-handed and uncompromising leadership of her predecessor.

But the roundup of key Chadema figures was condemned by rights groups and opposition activists as evidence the administration's intolerance of dissent still prevailed.

The United States expressed concern over Mbowe's arrest and urged Hassan to ensure freedoms for all Tanzanians.