(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Rights group slams riot control tactics

A local human rights group has accused the Tanzanian police of committing human rights violations during last week's riots involving Muslim youths in Dar es Salaam, the Tanzanian capital, in which two people were killed.

Ezekiel Masanja, acting director of the Tanzania Legal and Human Rights Centre told IRIN on Tuesday that his organisation had demanded a public apology from police authorities for the "violations they had committed" during and after the riots, as well as the resignation of top police officers.

"The police mistreated people. There were gross violations, they broke into houses and there was harassment of women and children. The police commissioner should take responsibility for that," Masanja said.

The riots erupted after fighting between two rival Muslim factions at the Mwembechai mosque, in Dar es Salaam, according to Masanja. The BBC reported on Thursday that the two groups had been "at loggerheads" over use and control of the Mwembechai mosque for a service to commemorate two people who had died in the prayer house during riots in 1998.

Riot police used live bullets, as well as dozens of tear-gas canisters, to disperse groups of youths who were hurling stones at them in different streets around the mosque, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Up to 53 persons have been arrested by police in connection with Wednesday's riots in the Magomeni Mwembechai area, and 23 have appeared in court. The remaining 30 detainees had yet to be charged, the paper reported.

Two Islamic leaders, Sheikh Ponda Isa and Sheikh Musa Kandecha, were among seven others who appeared in court on Monday charged with the murder of the two people - one police officer and one civilian - during the violence, and were remanded in custody until 4 March, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.

Alfred Tibaigana, Dar es Salaam regional police commander and senior assistant commissioner of police, admitted that 16 children and 17 women were among those arrested in the scuffle, but said they were released after being cleared of any involvement in the riots, according to the paper. Tibaigana, however, did not reveal the names of the other arrested persons except the two leaders, the Guardian said.

According to Masanja, the conduct of Tanzanian police has been changing over the last decade, and officers were "developing a culture of brutality".

Tanzania's human rights record came under the spotlight during violent clashes between riot police and supporters of the opposition Civic United Front in Zanzibar in January 2001, in which at least 22 people were killed.

Amnesty International said in a press statement in November 2001 that it had set out details, in a memorandum sent to the governments of Tanzania and Zanzibar, of human rights violations by the security forces during the January clashes, including killings, mass arrests, torture and rape.

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