On October 17, 13 people (three lawyers, their clients and the hotel manager) were arrested by the Tanzanian police during a legal consultation in preparation for a case wherein they are seeking to challenge the Tanzanian government’s decision to ban drop-in centres serving key populations at risk of HIV and the provision of certain preventive methods.  

The 13 arrested were released on bail, but were further rearrested on October 20.  

They are currently detained at a police station in Dar es Salaam. 

Lazaro Mambosasa (Dar es Salaam head of police) said the reason for the initial arrest was that the 13 were promoting homosexuality, however no formal charges have been laid against the 13.  

Sibongile Ndashe, a feminist lawyer from South Africa and director of the Institute for Strategic Litigation in Africa (who is among the 13 arrested), is reported to have said the preliminary finding by the police (which saw them released on bail after their arrest on October 17) has been rejected by the authorities and now they’re back behind bars and that their arrest was a means to frighten them.

The actions by the Tanzanian law enforcement agencies are a clear attempt to instil fear among those who wish to legally challenge the actions of that country's government and the attorneys who wish to assist them. 

This is occurring despite the fact that the Tanzanian constitution provides its citizens with the right to seek legal redress when a human right has been violated (Article 30(3). 

We as the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) find it unacceptable that an attorney should be persecuted in any manner for providing legal services and even more so for the clients of attorneys to be arrested for seeking legal services.  

Such action is not just an attack on the independence of the legal profession, but a gross assault on justice, the rule of law and the country's very own constitution.  

An independent legal profession is an essential guarantee for the promotion and protection of human rights and the establishment and maintenance of the rule of law.  

An important element to independence of the legal profession is an attorney’s ability to provide legal services without any fear of prosecution from authorities.

Members of the public should feel free to consult with a legal professional in seeking legal recourse when they feel that any of their rights are violated.  

It would be a sad day for justice which will see lawyers unable to defend clients because of fear of persecution. 

We condemn in the strongest possible form the actions of the Tanzanian law enforcement in this matter and join the call of other like-minded organisations for:

– The immediate release of the 13 who are currently detained;

– A cease of all activity aimed at persecution of legal professionals and their clients.

– For the Tanzanian government to take all steps necessary for defending and ensuring the independence of the legal profession and access to justice.

– To allow the foreign nationals whose passports have been seized to leave the country.

Memory Sosibo

Publicity secretary, Nadel executive committee