Tanzania Chadema party chairperson Freeman Mbowe
A Tanzanian judge on Monday recused himself from continuing to hear a case involving terrorism charges against the main opposition leader after the defendant expressed a lack of faith in his impartiality.
Opposition leader Freeman Mbowe of the Chadema party was detained in July and was subsequently charged with terrorism-related offences stemming from accusations he was plotting terror acts against government officials.
The party has said Mbowe’s arrest and the charges show the new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, is continuing the oppressive policies of her predecessor, John Magufuli, who died in March.
Officials deny accusations of rights violations and stifling democracy.
Judge Elinaza Luvanda of the high court’s Corruption and Economic Crimes Division agreed to a defence request and stepped down from the case on Monday, Mbowe’s lawyer, Peter Kibatala, told Reuters outside the court in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.
“Mbowe and his co-accused informed the court that they are not happy on how the case has been handled and they asked the judge to step down,” Kibatala said.
“He agreed to their request … they are working on finding another judge who will continue with the case.”
Kibatala said his client also pointed out that some members of the public had posted online comments that questioned the impartiality of the judge. He said that in order to eliminate such public perceptions of bias, “it was important for another judge to hear the case.”
Mbowe was detained in the lakeside town of Mwanza where he was due to attend a conference on proposals for a new constitution for the country.
Chadema has proposed changing Tanzania’s constitution, which it says is necessary to protect democracy following the demise of Magufuli.
Hassan was vice president under Magufuli. Her ascension to power was seen by some as a chance to end her predecessor’s clampdown on government critics and violations of human rights.