SA lawyers 'illegally' detained in Tanzania

23 October 2017 - 16:21 By Neo Goba
Jail cell.
Jail cell.
Image: iStock

The chances of two South African lawyers arrested on Tuesday in Tanzania being released any time soon are minimal‚ as the east African country is yet to charge them.

The lawyers‚ who cannot be named‚ are being kept in custody without being charged along with one Ugandan and 9 other Tanzanian lawyers. The 12 were allegedly preparing for a case challenging the Tanzanian government’s decision to ban drop-in centres that served people particularly at risk of contracting HIV.

"The challenge we have is that we are engaging with people who are operating outside the confines of the law. In this case‚ because they are doing things arbitrarily‚ we are waiting for [Tanzanian authorities] to decide whether or not they are charging them‚ because they haven't done so‚" Matilda Lasseko of the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa told TimesLIVE.

"The scary bit for us‚ is that had [authorities] been operating within legal confines‚ then we would be able to say [when the lawyers would be released]‚ because the law says you can't hold someone for more than 24 hours without charging them.

But because what [authorities] are doing seems to be unregulated‚ we cannot say for sure for how long they will maintain the status quo‚" said Lasseko. She said that this was an obvious intimidation tactic used by the Tanzanian authorities to repress the detainees' right to justice‚ because they had been given the agenda of the meeting and the minutes of the strategy consultation – which included the fact that the lawyers intend to challenge the decision to ban the centre and the distribution of lubricants.

According to Lasseko‚ the South Africans were arrested in the Peacock Hotel in Dar es Salaam by Tanzanian police on Tuesday last week for a few hours before being granted bail‚ and had to report every morning to the central police station.

But upon their arrival on Friday‚ they were immediately arrested‚ and their passports were taken away.

The South African Human Rights Commission and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco) had yet to comment at the time of publication. Dirco has referred all queries to the SA embassy in Tanzania.