Tanzania’s Court of Appeal puts Magufuli to test following a court order over Eyakuze’s seized passport

Aidan Eyakuze, Twaweza's CEO

WHERE there is a will, the Court of Appeal of Tanzania may still be the source of some hope for the oppressed people and institutions under the authoritative regime of President John Magufuli.

In a country where presidential decrees, human rights violation and oppression have become the order of the day in the past five years; a country where opposition politicians, journalists and activists have been arbitrarily harassed, maimed, abducted and killed for criticising the president; where almost all pillars of the state have compromised their integrity and independence, there remain very little hopes in the country’s highest court.

In the eyes of the common people, based on the rulings of most of the past cases, the lower courts have almost failed to do justice. But a recent ruling by the Court of Appeal seems to have restored some trust in the judiciary.

What remains to be seen is whether the government will honour the ruling in which early this week, the Court of Appeal ordered the Immigration Department to finalise the matter in which the department seized the passport of Aidan Eyakuze, the Chief Executive Officer Twaweza, a local research and think-tank that got in trouble for publishing an opinion poll that showed President Magufuli’s popularity plummeting in 2018.

The Magufuli regime confiscated Eyakuze’s passport in July 2018, alleging his citizenship was questionable.

But the matter in question caused by Twaweza’s pols the indicated Magufuli’s approval rating falling from 96% in 2016 to 55% in April 2018. That was a staggering drop of 41% in just two years.   

Apart from seizing Eyakuze’s passport, the government threatened to take Twaweza to court and made a law to criminalise the publication of data and statistics that do not have government approval.

Eyakuze challenged the government’s action in court and lost the case at the High Court of Tanzania.

This week, in a 50-page judgment following Eyakuze’s appeal that challenged High Court’s decision to sanctify the continued seizure of his passport, the court said the time spent by the Immigration Department in investigations on Twaweza boss citizenship has been long for no apparent reasons.

 The highest court of the land has directed the Commissioner-General of the Immigration Services Department to finalise investigations on Eyakuze’s citizenship status within sixty days of its order.

Eyakuze first filed an application in the High Court in August 2018 in which he sought orders to quash the decision by the Immigration Serviced Department to seize his passport on July 24, 2018, and put him on a ‘no-fly list.’

Respondents in the case were the Commissioner-General of the Immigration Services Department, the Commissioner of Citizenship and Passports and government’s chief legal advisor—the Attorney General.

The agencies opposed the application in High Court, arguing that it was premature since there was no time limit on the investigation of the mater, a contention which was affirmed by Judge Yose Mlyambina.

He moved to the Court of Appeal to challenge the holding of the High Court. He was represented by the president of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), Dr Rugemeleza Nshala.

Three judges of the supreme court, Augustine Mwarija, Winfrida Korosso and Barke Sehel– faulted the High Court’s decision, saying the respondents have failed to prove that the ongoing investigations on Eyakuze’s citizenship status was governed by ‘rule of reason.’

“The respondents have failed to substantiate reasons for the delay to finalise the investigations within a reasonable time without any expounded cause.

The court also said there was clear evidence that Mr Eyakuze was prejudiced by long delays that prevented him from travelling outside the country, especially after he was stopped at the Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) on his way to Kenya.

 “Indisputably, this was an interference in the appellant’s right to travel outside the country. The holding of the High Court that the application was premature was misconceived. Had the High Court Judge considered all the surrounding circumstances and the legal provisions critically, he would have not made such findings,” said the judges.

 According to the judges, the confiscation of Mr Eyakuze’s passport for more than a year, without providing him with any information on his citizenship status while also refraining his movements was an infringement on his freedom of movement and thus prejudiced his rights,” they said.

The Magufuli regime is notorious for not honouring court rulings. It is on record that when MwanaHALISI and Mawio newspapers won court cases against the government over the illegal ban in the past two years, the government refused to issue a license to let the publication hit the streets.