Tanzania opposition party ACT Wazalendo has on Tuesday accused security forces of killing at least nine people in Zanzibar with six more injured, as ballot boxes were set up for the first of two days of voting across the semi-autonomous archipelago that makes up part of Tanzania.
Members of the opposition party were repoertedly trying to prevent Tanzanian security forces from bringing ballot boxes to polling stations on Monday night because they believed they already had ballots in the boxes, said Ismail Jussa, an ACT Wazalendo party spokesman in Zanzibar.
"The security forces started teargassing them, and when they finally realized they could not overcome the protest by the people, they started firing at them with live ammunition," Jussa told RFI.
"As a result, seven people have been killed, three died on the spot yesterday, and four died last night. Two other cases were confirmed this morning," he said.
Tanzania's inspector general of police, Simon Sirro, denied that anyone had been killed, but claimed that 42 people were arrested for throwing rocks.
Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago, is made up of the main island of Unguja, along with a number of smaller islands, including Pemba to the north.
Tear gas, bullets
ACT Wazalendo spokesman Jussa said that at least seven opposition members had been shot in northern Unguja with live ammunition, and six are in a serious condition.
Meanwheile, according to sources in Pemba "it has been difficult to take the injured to the hospitals from Kangagani because all the roads leading to Chake Chake, Vitongoji and Wete are manned by security forces," said Pavu Juma Abdalla, deputy human rights secretary for the party in a statement.
There is a large police and security presence throughout the island, according to eyewitnesses.
"There's tear gas everywhere and live ammunition," said Jussa, describing the scene from Unguja.
The Zanzibari Electoral Commission ordered the voting across the archipelago to take place over two days, 27 and 28 October, instead of only on 28 October, as on mainland Tanzania.
Presidential candidate arrested
The opposition party had called on its members to go out and vote on the 27th. Presidential candidate Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad went to vote on Tuesday morning but was arrested by police, according to ACT Wazalendo spokesman Jussa.
"Immediately after he arrived there, he was stopped by the police, roughed up, and then taken into their car, and taken to police headquarters," said Jussa.
"His lawyers at first were denied entry, but then allowed after in after hours," he added.
Zanzibari police official Mohammed Hassan Haji confirmed to Associated Press newswire that he had been arrested, but did not give details.
"We are particularly alarmed by reports that three people were reportedly killed last night and others injured on Pemba Island in the Zanzibar archipelago where police fired live ammunition in clashes with opposition supporters," spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement on Tuesday.
"We have been following with concern the shrinking of democratic space in the country, with worrying reports of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and physical attacks against political opponents, journalists, women human rights defenders and other activists," she added.
I'm alarmed by reports from Zanzibar and elsewhere of violence, deaths, and detentions. It's not too late to prevent more bloodshed! Security forces must show restraint, and the NEC & ZEC must carry out their duties with integrity. Let's all pray for peaceful, fair elections.
- Ambassador Donald J. Wright (@USAmbTanzania) October 27, 2020
While the US Ambassador to Tanzania, Donald J. Wright, voiced his concern about the deaths of protesters and suppression of freedoms on the archipelago, the African Union, which has an observation mission in the country, called "on all stakeholders, political parties and their supporters to participate in the voting process peacefully and refrain from any acts of violence."
There was no formal acknowledgement by the AU of the people killed and injured, which has been criticised on social media.
Fears of violence
"We expected clashes before in Zanzibar because you heard Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad who threatened to call a boycott if the results will be against him," said RFI Kiswahili service editor Emmanuel Makundi on RFI's Africa Calling podcast.
Makundi says that the ruling party thought that banning opposition party movement up to the elections would cause the opposition parties to lose momentum, but it backfired.
"It turns out that the opposition has received support in their strongholds and in new places they were campaigning in," he added.
Security forces in Zanzibar killed at least 35 people in 2001 during the election and wounded more than 600 people after people protested over alleged election misconduct, according to Human Rights Watch.
Hardline Tanzanian President John Magufuli is running for a second term in Wednesday's elections as a number of human rights and civil society groups are concerned that the elections will not be free and fair.