October 20, 2017

Newswise — On Friday, Oct. 20, a team of human rights lawyers and activists were jailed in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania – a clear violation of Tanzanian and international human rights obligations.

The initial arrests came on Oct. 17 after a consultation they were holding was raided by the Tanzanian police. Thirteen people were arrested. After authorities initially released all but one of them on bail, all are back in custody today after their bail was revoked.

The group was preparing strategic litigation against the government of Tanzania for violating the right to health of Tanzanians by eliminating and outlawing key programs to fight HIV. These human rights leaders are accused of “promoting homosexuality.” Those arrested include attorney Sibongile Ndashe, executive director of the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA), an O’Neill Institute partner organization. Activists from Community Health Education Services and Advocacy, a Tanzanian NGO, are also being held.

The detaining of thirteen attorneys and their clients, including nationals of Tanzania and South Africa, brings recent Tanzania’s targeting of civil society to unprecedented new heights. The detention of human rights attorneys and leading public health and community leaders is not only a severe violation of their rights, but also raises the level of threat to human rights defenders in the country – another step backwards for human rights. If a South African legal organization supporting local clients in litigation could be arrested on spurious charges, what human rights defender in Tanzania is not at risk? It is critical that this action not stand.

We strongly urge the government to release the detainees, discontinue the legal proceedings against them, return passports to the foreign nationals who have been arrested and restore their freedom of movement. The government should also ensure and affirm access to legal representation and support, as ISLA sought to provide, without intimidation. We've reached out to our partners to show our support and commitment to challenging this action.

Oscar A. Cabrera Executive Director O'Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law Visiting Professor Georgetown Law

Matthew M. Kavanagh Director, Global Health Policy & Governance Initiative O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law Visiting Professor Georgetown Law