Tanzania’s president Samia Suluhu Hassan has lifted a ban on opposition rallies imposed in 2016 by her strongman predecessor, in an overture to political rivals seeking the restoration of democratic traditions.
“According to our laws, it is the right of political parties to hold their public meetings… my presence today in front of you is to give permission… that the announcement to prevent public meetings is now lifted,” local news outlet ITV, reported Hassan as saying on Tuesday.
The ban was proscribed by former President John Magufuli in 2016 during his first term. Initially meant to apply to all political parties, critics said it targeted only the opposition.
In 2018, the Magafuli-led government passed a law forcing bloggers, social media influencers and online platforms to apply for a licence and pay a one-time fee of $930 to keep their sites up.
Three years on, Hassan took office after the death of Magufuli who was nicknamed “The Bulldozer” by many who said he curbed free speech and targeted dissidents.
The incumbent president is constitutionally serving the remainder of Magufuli’s second five-year term, which ends in 2025.
She has also been accused of carrying on with Magufuli’s authoritarian tendencies.
Despite seeking to make conciliatory moves to the opposition since taking office, critics have branded Hassan a “dictator” and fears remain about the state of political and media freedoms.
In 2021, a newspaper owned by the ruling party was suspended for publishing a story saying Hassan would not run for office in 2025.
Moreover, the seven-month detention of opposition leader Freeman Mbowe, who was arrested in July 2021 over alleged “terrorism financing” charges, dealt a huge blow to Hassan’s democratic credentials. Mbowe was released last March after a court order.
His supporters said the case was a politically motivated move to crush dissent, and Mbowe has accused police of torturing him during his time in custody.