Following a raid on a ‘legal consultation’ convened by the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and Community Health Services and Advocacy (CHESA), the organisation’s lawyer is adamant the Tanzania police have no legal reason to detain the group of 13 individuals.
Matilda Laseko, ISLA project attorney, told The Citizen the meeting raided by the Tanzanian police was a “legal consultation convened in order to get more instructions and evidence on a case” both groups planned to file before a court.
The case concerns a challenge to government’s decision to limit the provision of certain health services that it had previously provided. Laseko said most of the service to be scaled down are those provided to key populations. These include gay and bisexual citizens and sex workers.
“A lot of them, due to the stigma, are not able to access health services the ordinary way. For this reason our client established drop in centres. They wanted to challenge the decision to close them in court. We [ISLA] advise African lawyers with human rights with strategic advice. It is our job,” said Laseko.
The group of 13 people were detained on Tuesday 17 October and released on bail the following day, and no charges were brought against them. On Wednesday, the regional commissioner of police issued a press statement, referring to the “arrests”, and stated that 12 people were “promoting” homosexuality.
“The police had a copy of the concept note and the agenda of the consultation. Three lawyers were part of the group, that was detained, include ISLA’s executive director, Sibongile Ndashe. The bail was revoked on Friday 20 October 2017 with the view of starting the investigation afresh. All 13 people are back in custody,” a statement carried out by Amsher, another human rights group, stated.
“They remain in custody, and we don’t know how long they will be detained for since last week Tuesday, they are being held while the police allege that there is an investigation. They are held in detention under investigation because they have nothing to be charged with,” Laseko continued.
The organisation has since appointed a local counsel in Tanzania that is helping them with the process. Laseko is insistent that Tanzanian police should drop the case.
She said the organisation would continue its work in African countries where the need arose.
“The issue here is access to justice. If those law organisations are intimidated, this it is problematic. How about ordinary citizens in that country?” Laseko asked.