Dar Es Salaam- A court in Tanzania
sentenced two opposition leaders to five months in prison on
Monday for insulting President John Magufuli, a decision likely
to fuel criticism that authorities are undermining democracy and
stifling free speech.
The court in the southern highlands convicted Joseph
Mbilinyi, a lawmaker from the main opposition CHADEMA party, and
local leader for the party Emmanuel Masonga for using abusive
language against the president at a public rally in December.
Court documents seen by Reuters show that Mbilinyi was
accused of associating Magufuli with an alleged assassination
attempt on vocal opposition MP Tundu Lissu last year.
Lissu, a fierce critic of Magufuli's government, was shot
several times by unknown gunmen in the administrative capital
Dodoma in September. He sought treatment abroad and has yet to
Magufuli condemned the attack on the opposition lawmaker and
called for a swift investigation.
"Mbilinyi ... used insulting language against President John
Magufuli ... likely to cause breach of peace," said part of the
According to Tanzania's penal code, "any person who uses
obscene, abusive or insulting language to any other person in
such a manner as is likely to cause a breach of the peace" faces
a maximum sentence of six months in jail.
CHADEMA's deputy secretary general John Mnyika told
reporters on Monday that the opposition party would appeal
against both the convictions and sentences.
The United States, European Union and several Western
embassies in Tanzania last week voiced concern over
politically-related violence and allegations of human rights
"We note with concern recent developments which threaten
democratic values and the rights of Tanzanians in a country
which is widely respected in the world for its stability,
peacefulness and freedoms," the European Delegation to Tanzania
said in a statement on Friday.
But the criticism is unlikely to hurt the government
politically, since it remains in an electorally strong position.
Three people, including a university student, were killed
over the past few weeks in various parts of Tanzania in
politically-related incidents, according to opposition leaders.
An opposition figure and a journalist have also disappeared.
More than 10 people, including university students and a
lecturer, have been charged in court over the past two years
with insulting the president via social networking platform like
Insulting the president on social media was made a criminal
offence under a cyber crimes law passed in 2015 before Magufuli
came into office.