16 February 2013

Tanzania: Several Arrested in Dar Demo 'Scare'

Photo: The Daily News
Alleged followers of Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda distance themselves with him in court (file photo).

SECURITY was bolstered at the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) at Sukari House along Sokoine Drive in Dar es Salaam on Friday following a demonstration scare by Muslims to the offices after Friday prayers.

Several people were also arrested in and around town. Some were found walking in small groups but were whisked away by police officers who seemingly did not want to take risks and allow a full scale demo.

Following the scare, traffic in many parts of town also came to a standstill as many people wanted to leave earlier than usual to avoid being caught up in any possible confrontation between the demonstrators and police officers.

Demonstrators had announced to march to the office of the DPP, Mr Eliezer Feleshi, after Friday prayers to demand for the unconditional release of a Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, the influential leader of Council of Imams. The Council has been involved in a long-running wrangle with the Muslim Council of Tanzania (Bakwata).

Sheikh Ponda's arrest together with other followers in October last year followed acts of vandalism by protesters who also torched five churches in Mbagala on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. It has been reported that demonstrators wanted an audience with the DPP to demand for the release of the cleric whose application for bail had been turned down.

However, police banned the planned demonstration and said that anyone who would go against the ban would be arrested and legal action taken against them. There were mixed reactions to both the defiance on the part of the would-be demonstrators and the indiscrimi- nate arrests by the police.

One Yasini Kisobwe (54), who was coming from Id- drissa Mosques in Kariakoo blamed the perennial confrontation between youths and police officers to a lack of productive activities among young people. "This has nothing to do with religion; the government should seriously look into ways to engage young people in productive activities.

It is obvious that some of those willing to demonstrate are not even Muslims," he said. Ayub Shelukindo (24) lamented on the indiscriminate arrest of people in the streets just because they were dressed in what is deemed as Islamic attire. "Some of those arrested did not do anything wrong, they were just going about their business but because they appeared Islamic they were whisked away by police," he said.

Earlier, Dar es Salaam Zonal Crime Officer, ACP Ahmed Msangi said the situation would be under control, adding that only a few indi- viduals were inclined to incite others to break the law. Dar es Salaam Special Zone Police Commander, Suleiman Kova was initially quoted as saying that Sheikh Ponda had been arrested for giving hate speeches that incite people to disturb the peace.

Businesses were also disrupted, with some businessmen in Kariakoo complaining that they have been forced to have an early day because of the scare.

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