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Tanzania: Arrest of sixteen human rights defenders following peaceful protest

On 9 February 2012, sixteen human rights defenders were arrested in Dar es Salaam. Their arrest followed their participation in a peaceful protest against the Government’s failure to resolve the ongoing health crisis in the country.

Among those arrested are Dr Helen Kijo Bisimba, Executive Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC); Ms Ananilea Nkya, Executive Director of the Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA); Mr Irenei Kiria, Executive Director of the youth organisation SIKIKA; Ms Anna Migila and Messrs Marcus Albany and Godfrey Mpandikizi, all LHRC staff members; and Erin Riley, from the Canadian Bar Association.

Amongst those arrested were also five members of the Tanzania Gender Network, members of the Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP) as well as members of the Network for Disabled People Living with HIV/AIDS (NEDPHA).

On 9 February 2012, at approximately noon, the sixteen human rights defenders were arrested by the police after arriving to the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) in Dar es Salaam. They went to the hospital to await the outcome of talks between the Prime Minister and health workers who have been on strike for several weeks. According to the information received, they are currently being detained in the Oyster Bay Police Station.

A day earlier, 8 February 2012, more than 200 people, including the human rights defenders now in detention, staged a protest at Salendar Bridge and adjoining roads. This peaceful protest attracted major media attention. The protesters denounced the authorities' failure to find a solution to the crisis, which reportedly caused a number of deaths due to the health workers' strike. The protesters further called on the Minister of Health and other top officials to resign. The same day, human rights organisations issued a joint statement regarding the crisis.

Following the arrests, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition issued a statement calling for the release of the sixteen human rights defenders arrested.

Front Line Defenders deplores the arrest and believes that they may be related to the human rights groups' mobilisation and campaigning around the current crises in the health sector.

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