The head of Tanzania’s main opposition party was freed on bail Thursday after more than three months in detention on allegations that he took part in an illegal protest. Freeman Mbowe, a member of parliament, was arrested in November with another MP from his, Esther Matiko, after they failed twice to appear in court to face charges over a protest march in February 2018 during which a 22-year-old student was killed by a stray bullet fired by police.
In an appeal by the pair, Judge Sam Rumanyika ruled Thursday that their rights had been violated, and ordered their immediate release on bail.
“I have never seen such a case in all my time as a judge,” Rumanyika said, adding it was “dangerous to deny an accused bail without a valid reason.”
“I order that Mr Mbowe and Mrs Matiko be freed immediately,” the judge ruled. They must report to the court once a month until their appearance with seven other co-accused in the protest trial.
A Chadema party official subsequently announced the two had in fact been released.
Six opposition parties in Tanzania vowed in December to join forces in a campaign against what they termed the “dictatorship” of President John Magufuli. Critics say Magufuli has unleashed a wave of oppression since his election in 2015, cracking down on opposition figures, the media, and gays.
In November, the United States accused the Tanzanian government of fostering “an atmosphere of violence, intimidation and discrimination.”
The European Union, Tanzania’s biggest development partner, also said it would review its financial support of more than $100 million per year, in response to moves undermining “human rights and the rule of law.”