OutRight Calls on the Tanzanian Authorities to Release the 13 Lawyers and Health Activists Arbitrarily Detained

The following statement from Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight, is in response to Tuesday's raid by the Tanzanian Police of a legal consultation convened by the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and the Community Health Services and Advocacy (CHESA):

"We are extremely concerned with the detention of 13 lawyers and community health activists of the organizations ISLA and CHESA this week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and the subsequent de-registration of CHESA. Not only is arbitrary arrest a violation of international law, it is a violation of Tanzania's own constitution (Art 30(3)). OutRight requests the immediate and unconditional release of the 13 people in policy custody, including by permitting foreign nationals to return to their home countries. Furthermore, CHESA's registration must be reinstated so that it may continue its life-saving work."

ISLA and CHESA issued the following press statement detailing the events.

Organizations that want to send letters to authorities may download the file, add their logo, signature and name at the bottom and adapt as deemed appropriate.

The original statement is available as a PDF or can be read below:

PRESS STATEMENT

Dar-es-Salaam, 20 October 2016- On Tuesday, 17 October 2017, a legal consultation convened by the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and Community Health Services and Advocacy (CHESA) was raided by the Tanzanian Police. The consultation was convened in order to get more instructions and evidence on a case that we plan to file before a court. The case concerns a challenge to government’s decision to limit the provision of certain health services that it had previously provided.

Thirteen people were detained and released on bail with no charges made. On Wednesday, the Regional Commissioner of police issued a press statement, referring to the “arrests” and stated that twelve people who were promoting homosexuality had been arrested. This mischaracterisation of a legal consultation where lawyers and their clients were discussing a very specific case to be referred to the court is unfortunate. The police had a copy of the concept note and the agenda of the consultation. Three lawyers were part of the group, that was detained, include ISLA’s executive director, Sibongile Ndashe. The bail was revoked on Friday 20 October 2017 with the view of starting the investigation afresh. All thirteen people are back in custody.

The Tanzanian Constitution enshrines the right to seek legal redress when fundamental rights have been violated (Art 30(3)). The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ rights, which Tanzania is a signatory to, also recognises an individual’s right to an appeal to competent national organs against acts violating his fundamental rights as recognised and guaranteed by conventions, laws and customs in force (Art 7(a)). Tanzania is a signatory to a number of international human rights treaties that recognizes these and other related rights.

We view this as an attempt to intimidate citizens from approaching judicial institutions when their rights have been violated, to create an environment where lawyers are afraid to provide legal representation and to ultimately create an environment where it is unthinkable to hold the state accountable for human rights violations. There is no legal basis for these proceedings. We call upon Tanzanian authorities to discontinue the ongoing persecution of lawyers and their clients. Allow citizens to access legal representation without intimidation and allow the foreign nationals whose passports have been seized to leave the country.

Issued by CHESA and ISLA