A police officer enforces pre-election laws in Zanzibar, Tanzania, on Oct. 27. (Anthony Siame-EPA-EFE-Shutterstock)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday that at least four people were killed by the state forces who also carried out other serious abuses that marred Tanzania’s national elections in late October and early November 2020.

The human rights watchdog said in a statement that the authorities should investigate those abuses, end the harassment of journalists and opposition politicians, and cancel the media restrictions that began before election day.

It noted that after election campaigns started in August, the police arbitrarily arrested and detained scores of opposition party leaders and supporters.

In the weeks ahead of the elections, the authorities suspended television and radio stations, censored mobile phone communication, and blocked social media. And on the eve of elections, police fired live ammunition into crowds on the semi-autonomous island archipelago of Zanzibar, killing at least three people, the statement said.

“The Tanzanian government crackdown on the opposition and the press during the electoral campaign undermined the credibility of the elections,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to credibly investigate election-related abuses and end continuing repressive practices now.”

Elections on mainland Tanzania took place on 28 October, and in Zanzibar on 27 and 28 October.

On October 30, the National Electoral Commission announced that President John Magufuli of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, had won with 84 per cent of the votes ahead of his closest challenger, Tundu Lissu, of the opposition, Chadema party.

Human Rights Watch said it conducted phone interviews with 16 people between 15 October and 9 November, including journalists, party officials, and family members of people allegedly killed by police.

It said it documented the arrests of at least 18 opposition party officials, leaders, and supporters, including Lissu and another presidential candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad, of the ACT Wazalendo party, ahead of, and after the elections.

The Chadema party reported that up to 300 of its members were arrested across the country during this period.


Human Rights Watch said it found that police killed at least three people and injured scores of others on the night before the elections in Zanzibar.

Human Rights Watch said in Zanzibar, government security forces and a government-aligned militia group, known as the “Mazombi,” or “Zombies,” harassed and beat people prior to and since the elections.

It said in the lead-up to the elections, the media regulator, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), suspended media outlets for election-related coverage and placed restrictions on online content critical of the government.

A journalist in Unguja, Zanzibar, told Human Rights Watch that on 29 October, police briefly detained her and two colleagues at a police station as they sought to cover a street demonstration against the local election results organized by ACT Wazalendo.

Human Rights Watch said since President Magufuli took office in 2015, the authorities have increasingly cracked down on the media and civil society groups by passing and enforcing restrictive laws and threatening to withdraw the registration of organizations critical of the government.

The government also placed restrictions on the political opposition and gave the registrar of political parties’ wide discretionary powers, including to withdraw registration from parties.

“The Tanzanian authorities should take prompt, credible, and impartial steps to investigate the allegations of election-related killings, beatings and assaults by security forces, and hold those responsible accountable,” Human Rights Watch said.

It said the government should urgently review repressive legislation and policies and ensure protection for the rights of all as guaranteed under international and regional human rights law including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“The Tanzanian government’s dramatic decline in respect for free expression, association and peaceful assembly was worryingly obvious during the elections,” Nyeko said. “The Magufuli government should take concrete steps to improve respect for human rights for all.”

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