Rights organizations call for release UAE port deal critics in Tanzania

Rights advocates are calling on Tanzania to release three individuals, among them a former legislator, asserting that they might be subjected to treason charges merely due to their criticism of an agreement with an Emirati company concerning the management of the nation’s ports.

Amnesty International reported that Willibrod Slaa, a former parliamentarian and diplomat, along with two activists, were apprehended over the weekend subsequent to openly criticizing the ports agreement, which had been signed in October by President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

The accord clears the path for DP World, a logistics enterprise under the governance of the Emirate of Dubai in the UAE, to oversee the management of all ports in Tanzania in cooperation with the government as the agreement was officially approved by the parliament in June.

Detractors of the agreement assert that it jeopardizes Tanzanian sovereignty and security, while the government has stood by the deal, contending that it will enhance operational efficiency, reduce expenses, and augment revenues.

“The Tanzanian authorities’ crackdown of critics of the UAE port deal reveals their growing intolerance to dissent,” Amnesty’s east and southern Africa director, Tigere Chagutah, said late Monday.

Slaa and his co-defendants potentially face charges of treason, a grave offense without the possibility of bail and with a potential death penalty, as stated by Amnesty International, referencing the lawyers representing the trio.

“The Tanzanian government should end these arbitrary arrests and take further steps to address the challenges to freedom of expression,” said HRW researcher Oryem Nyeko.

Hassan assumed office in March 2021 following the unexpected passing of her autocratic predecessor, John Magufuli.

Despite reversing certain contentious policies established by Magufuli, critics have criticized her, branding her a “dictator” particularly after the arrest and subsequent release of Freeman Mbowe, leader of the Chadema opposition party, on terrorism charges in July 2021.

Chadema, along with others, is in the camp opposing the agreement, which grants DP World the sole rights for a span of 12 months to engage in negotiations with the government regarding the optimal management of the nation’s 80 ports.

During June, Transport Minister Makame Mbarawa conveyed to the parliament that DP World’s investment would enhance the operational efficiency of Tanzanian ports, facilitating an increased capacity for ships to dock.

“The cost of transit cargo will also drop by almost half,” he said.

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