HEARING of a sedition trial of nine officials of the opposition political party Chadema finally began yesterday with a senior police officer naming National Chairman Freeman Mbowe and his colleagues as "Kings" of illegal demonstrations held prior to by-elections in Kinondoni Constituency in February, 2018.
The beginning of the trial hearing comes after being delayed for over a year following a number of issues raised by both prosecution and defence.
Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Gerald Richi became the first prosecution witness, who drew the sequence of events during election campaigns.
Led by prosecution's team, led by Principal State Attorney Faraja Nchimbi, the witness explained that February 16, 2018 was the day when political parties that participated in the by-elections concluded their campaigns ahead of the D-day for the nomination of the candidate for the constituency poll.
He told Principal Resident Magistrate Thomas Simba at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court in Dar es Salaam that as Operations Officer of Kinondoni Police Region, he was mandated to ensure the election meetings held by major parties, CUF, CCM and Chadema, were held and concluded peacefully.
According to him, On February 16, 2018, he assigned senior officers to monitor the meetings, with SSP Dotto monitoring the Chadema meeting held at Buibui Grounds.
He testified that all things went well until around 5.30pm when he received information that there were signs of breach of peace at the meeting.
"I received information from SSP Dotto that Chadema leaders who entered the stage delivered hate speeches encouraging followers to go to the returning officer, who is Kinondoni District Executive Director. I directed him to talk to the leaders to stop as what they were doing was illegal," he said.
The witness explained that despite being warned, the leaders of the opposition party disobeyed and while accompanied by members and supporters, they started moving from the ground towards Kawawa Road, while singing songs encouraging each other to proceed on the front.
SSP Richi told the court that he directed the police on patrol to come to the scene in order to prevent the demonstrators, who were armed with stones, water bottles and tree branches from advancing.
He further said that he also moved to the scene in order to control the situation.
As he was approaching the junction of Kawawa and Mwananyamala roads, the witness said, he saw a huge group of demonstrators advancing towards Magomeni area to the office of the returning officer.
The witness testified that he gave an alert three times for the demonstrators to disperse.
"Chadema leaders comprising Mbowe, Salim Mwalimu, Peter Msigwa, John Mnyika, John Heche, Halima Mdee, Ester Bulaya and Ester Matiko, who were leading the demonstrations, did not heed the alert.
I directed the police to fire tear gas bombs to disperse the demonstrators," he said. However, he said, the operation was not effective, as the smoke turned to the police as they were in the wind direction.
He testified that the situation encouraged demonstrators to advance further, while throwing stones at the police. "In the process two police officers, Corporal Rahim and Police Constable Fikiri were injured.
Due to such circumstances, I directed police officers with guns to advance towards the demonstrators and fired live bullets in the air. All the demonstrators, including Mbowe, fled," the witness told the court.
SSP Rich caused laughter in court when he testified that he couldn't believe Mbowe could run as fast as he did, pointing out that his spectacles dropped and he was arrested alongside 42 other people.
The witness said that all 43 arrested people were taken to a police station interrogations.