THE 54 accused charged with illegal assembly distanced themselves from Sheikh Ponda Issa Ponda, claiming that they were linked with crimes and arrested simply because some have beards and had put on Muslim skull caps.
The accused opted to take this stance when their trial took off at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court in Dar es Salaam after the prosecution concluded reading a memorandum of facts and thereafter called one witness, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Ahmed Msangi, to give testimony against them.
"Why are you associating us with Ponda? Which criteria did you use to arrest us,?" one of the accused queried, while another asked, "Is it because we have beards and Muslim skull caps?"
Responding to the questions by the accused in a cross-examination session, ACP Msangi, who is the Zonal Crime Officer (ZCO) of the Dar es Salaam Police Special Zone, told Resident Magistrate Sudi Fimbo that there were signs that led the police to arrest the accused in connection with the offences.
According to the charge sheet, the accused are facing four counts of conspiracy, unlawful assembly, rioting after proclamation and incitement to others to conduct demonstration.
The senior police officer testified that the accused were associated with Ponda, the Secretary General of the Council of Islamic Organization, because they were organizing themselves to demonstrate to pressurize the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to withdraw his certificate for objection of his bail. "As for criteria employed to arrest you, another witness will come before this court to account for that.
In my part I do not know because at the time of your arrested I was in my office," ACP Msangi explained. On Friday when the accused were arrested, ACP Msangi was the Acting Commander of the Police Zone.
In the initial examination led by State Attorney Nassoro Katuga, the first prosecution witness gave five reasons why the police had rejected the request by a section of Muslims who had wanted to conduct the demonstrations.
Some of the reasons include maintenance of peace, lack of enough police to provide security, and the fact that the area where the DPP's office is located was small and could not accommodate all the demonstrators and that the issue of Sheikh Ponda was still pending in court, hence such pressure could interfere in his case.
"We communicated our position to leaders of the applicants on February 13. But on February 15, when I was in my office, I was informed through my radio call that there were some people who had assembled in groups with the purpose of holding the demonstrations," the witness narrated.
According to him, he directed the police to disperse the groups and arrest those who would disobey the orders. "That is why these accused are here, your honour," ACP Msangi concluded. Before entering the witness box, the prosecution alleged that some of the accused were found armed during the arrest. Hearing of the case continues on Wednesday.
The accused in the matter are Salum Makome, Said Idd, Ally Nandumbi, Hussein Athuman, Seif Rwambo, Abdul Ally, Waziri Swed, Naziru Waziri, Ahmed Rashid, Jumanne Kayogola, Hamis Tita, Amri Digaga, Salim Said, Rajabu Mpote, Haji Sheluhenda, Abdul Ahmed, Bakari Mwambale, Ramadhani Fadhili and Awalu Juma.
The rest are Omar Mkwama, Kassim Chobo, Abubakar Bakari, Ramadhani Milambo, Hamis Ndeka, Athumani Juma, Abdallah Salim, Juma Makoti, Bashir Kakoti, Iman Omari, Rashid Lukuta, Bakari Athumani, Mbwana Kassimu, Nurdin Ahmed, Mustapha Mohamed, Rajab Kifundo and Zuberi Juma.
Others include Omar Mkhandi, Idrisa Katulimo, Samali Mola, Said Dudu, Ramadhani Juma, Musa Sinde, Issa Sobo, Yahaya Salim, Jabir Twahir, Shemani Pilimo, Hashimu Henrishi, Waziri Toy, Athumani Yahaya, Yassin Selemani, Shaban Malendo, Yassin Mohamed, Khatibu Abdallah and Rajab Rashid.