September 27, 2022

Watetezi Media

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“Undressing prisoners publically is slavery”, Peter Msigwa

Tanzanian Human Rights Organization reports that Human rights violations in Tanzania increased in the year 2017, compared to the year 2016 and before. Most violations were of civil and political rights, especially right to life, freedom from violence, right to liberty and personal security, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association, and human rights in general. Human Rights Organizations such as Human Rights Watch wrote an open joint letter to Tanzanian President on March 2020, on Immediate Measures to Protect the Rights of Prison Detainees in Tanzania. However, this letter did not get a response from the responsible authorities.

One year after HRW statement, two human rights defenders on political rights who were also former opposition members of Parliament filed a constitutional case against the Attorney General and the Tanzania Prisons Commissioner General protesting the violation of their basic and constitutional rights while serving their prison sentences. The constitutional case was filed at the Dar es Salaam zone of the high court of Tanzania on May 2021. These HRDs are Mr. Joseph Mbilinyi, former Members of Parliament representing Mbeya urban constituency and Mr. Peter Msigwa who formerly represented Iringa Urban constituency in Tanzania Mainland both on Main opposition party, CHADEMA Ticket.

During their leadership, both of them were remanded and jailed several times. While Mr. Mbilinyi spent five months in Mbeya prison after being sentenced for five months in jail using abusive language against former President John Magufuli in February 2018. On the other Side, Mr. Msigwa was among eight members of Parliament and former CHADEMA secretary general who were sentenced five months jail term or payment of a total of 350 million shillings fine after being convicted by the Kisutu resident magistrate with 12 counts out of 13 which they were charged with.

In Tanzanian prisons, there is a failure to identify prisoners’ identities: One of the acts degrading a person in prison is an act of being told to strip naked in public for a body search. The procedure used is outdated and very brutal that does not take into account a person’s age and privacy. This is a process that violates and humiliates human rights. “Throughout the time we were in prison serving the sentences given to us by the courts, there was a gross violation of fundamental rights as enshrined in our constitution and in a number of international treaties that this country has signed,” Mr. Msigwa told members of the press shortly after filing the case in Dar es Salaam in 2021. The outspoken former MP said that these kinds of acts were inherited from colonialists and violated the right to privacy.

For his part, Mr Mbilinyi, said that human rights to the prisoners in the country must be preserved and they deserve such respect and be shielded from humiliations. “A prisoner is not an animal but a human deserving respect of all human rights. He / she have legal and constitutional rights that must be protected and respected, his dignity should not be violated and he should not be subjected to cruel and degrading treatment,” Said Mr. Joseph Mbilinyi. He added that filing such a case was part of efforts advocating for civil rights and civic space in the country as part of service to Tanzanians outside the House of Representatives.

Among other things, prisoners are also forced to be tested for HIV and to be given answers in public and without following medical values that require tests to be consensual and results to be confidential. Solitary confinement and punishment by food deprivation are also against human rights.

The act of a person being sentenced to serve a prison sentence does not mean taking away his God-given personality and rights. The only thing he/she should be denied is his freedom of movement while in confinement. All other rights enshrined in international law and treaties, and the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania continue to exist and must be protected and respected equally. Although he/she is serving a sentence, the freedom restraint should be taken in a civilized way. All his/her legal and constitutional rights must be protected and respected, dignity should not be violated and should not be subjected to cruel and degrading treatment, and should not be tortured mentally and/or physically as doing so would be tantamount to punishing him/her twice for the same offense.

“Prisoners are like other human beings, not to be abused, humiliated and tortured”