Tanzanian Government Crackdown on Muslims in Zanzibar

Islamic Human Rights Commission


For Immediate Release

16th February 2001

Tanzanian Government Crackdown on Muslims in Zanzibar

Tanzanian police are cracking down brutally on opposition supporters in Zanzibar, after an estimated 2,800 people protested at the end of January against alleged fraud in the general elections. These were held in the predominantly Muslim semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar on 29th October 2000. International observers found the elections, which were marred by violence amid allegations of ballot-rigging and police intimidation, to have been deeply flawed.

Hundreds of Muslim protestors calling for electoral reforms and new elections in Zanzibar, were attacked by police with tear gas and live ammunition. The worst violence occurred in Pemba, whose residents largely support the opposition party, the Civic United Front (CUF). The police response swiftly escalated from the violent dispersal of civilian protestors, to a large-scale crackdown on opposition supporters throughout Zanzibar.

Over 20 protestors were shot or beaten to death in the initial clashes, with scores more killed or injured in house-to-house searches for opposition supporters. According to CUF official Musa Haji, a member of Zanzibar’s House of Representatives, the party had confirmed from the reports of relatives of victims that from January 26-30, 51 Muslims had been killed across Pemba’s three main towns. Seven more supporters were killed on the larger island, Unguja. Two boats carrying as many as 50 people each from Pemba to neighboring Kenya sank when police fired on them from a helicopter, their passengers are feared to have drowned. Around 300 to 400 other people were missing, with a further 300 arrested by police.

The Kenya Red Cross has raised concerns about the increasing numbers of refugees streaming from Zanzibar into Kenya’s coast. Hundreds have already fled, with more refugees anticipated in the wake of further expected police violence. A recent CUF report on human rights abuses by Tanzanian security since 26th January notes that all CUF leaders “have been arrested, are in hiding, or have disappeared.” Tanzanian security forces have “engaged in a coordinated program to place Zanzibar under military rule and to inflict massive human rights violations on its people.” Protests are planned to continue until Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and the international community address opposition allegations.

The recent outbreak of police brutality unleashed on civilians appears to be the latest stage in a Tanzanian Government campaign to demonise the Muslim community of Zanzibar. Alexander Amani Muganda, Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, has made several declarations illustrating the Government’s anti-Muslim stance.

He accused Western countries of spearheading a conspiracy to help “Muslims take over the isles of Zanzibar and Pemba”. According to Muganda, the present crisis in Zanzibar was instigated by “the Arabs or the shirazis as they would prefer to be known today”. He noted that “the population of Zanzibar now is 750,000 and that the Arabs are 250,000 and the rest are Africans who number 500,000”. He also argued that Arabs were bent on gaining control of the country with the help of the British and Arab powers. He called for “southern African states and governments (particularly Tanzania and Zimbabwe) to take urgent steps to fight the opposition parties which are used by the western donors to undermine popularly elected Governments.” Opposition parties, he claimed, are being used by “whites” and “Arabs” to push the countries into anarchy.

A Tanzanian parliamentarian who has also fled to Kenya urged the United Nations to establish an international tribunal to investigate human rights violations in Tanzania. His demand has been met with silence by the international community, which has as yet done little in response to the violence.

For more information on the above, please contact the IHRC Press Office on (+44) 20 8902 0888, (+44) 958 522 196, e-mail: ihrc@dial.pipex.com.