Tanzanian opposition leader arrested as election approaches

DODOMA, Tanzania (AP) — Police in Tanzania have arrested the leader of a prominent opposition party while he was meeting with supporters, a party official said Tuesday as pressure rises ahead of the national election in October.

Zitto Kabwe was in police custody without clear charges against him, said the secretary general of the Alliance for Transparency and Change party, Addo Shaibu. Also arrested at the meeting in Kilwa district was lawmaker Suleiman Bungara, Shaibu said.

Rights groups accuse President John Magufuli of shrinking the democratic space in the East African country since taking power in 2015. Newspapers have been shut down — another large one was closed Tuesday — and non-governmental organizations' work has been severely restricted.

While police have enforced Magufuli's ban on political rallies when it comes to opposition parties, ruling party officials have been holding rallies and other political activities across the country ahead of the election in which the president seeks a second term.

Kabwe recently was found guilty of sedition and barred from making public statements for one year. Before that, he had been a vocal critic of Magufuli's administration and its approach in dealing with the coronavirus.

Tanzania hasn't updated its number of virus cases since late April, and the president has claimed COVID-19 has been defeated. Magufuli has recommended prayer, exercise and herbal medicines as the best ways to combat the pandemic but also reminds Tanzanians to wash their hands regularly.

While the government says Tanzania has just 509 virus cases, Kabwe has said it is covering up the true extent of the pandemic and that the number of infections could be more like 20,000.

Also Tuesday, the government revoked the licence of the print and online publication of the Tanzania Daima Daily without announcing a reason. The newspaper, one of the largest in the country, is owned by the leader of the official opposition in parliament, Freeman Mbowe.

The newspaper's editor, Martin Mallera, said the decision was shocking news to several hundred workers who are now left jobless.