Intimidation of land rights defenders in Tanzania must stop, says international human rights organisation Forest Peoples Programme
Since 12 July, 18 Maasai elected officials, teachers, activists and community members who have been defending their lands from large-scale foreign safari companies have been arrested in Ngorongoro district, northern Tanzania. The Tanzanian government alleges that they pose a threat to national security. Another 52 names are allegedly contained on the list held by police for future arrest.
Many of those arrested are reportedly held for more than 10 days without charge, and with no access to legal representation or medical assistance. Four individuals suffered beatings while in custody, it was gathered. A lawyer who attended the police station to defend those arrested was also himself arrested, although later released. Those remaining in custody were charged and released on bail overnight after a national media campaign, and a demonstration by lawyers who boycotted all court activities. A number of individuals targeted for arrest remain in hiding. There are indications that police are still continuing to pursue arrests.
Those arrested have been supporting Maasai land rights in the Ngorongoro district in opposition to government plans to give their lands to large tourism and game-hunting companies. In March 2013, the government declared its intention to grant 1,500 square kilometres from the Maasai’s 4,000 square kilometres’ territory in the Ngorongoro district to Ortello Business Corporation, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) luxury game-hunting company, and Thomson Safari, an American safari company. Around 30,000 indigenous Maasai pastoralists will either be displaced from or lose access to their lands, if the government continues with its plan to sell Maasaian cestral land for tourism.
The government of Tanzania is alleging that the arrested Maasai land defenders have jeopardised national security when they have opposed large-scale threats to their lands, livelihoods and cultures.
Among the people arrested was Maasai representative Samwel Nangiria, who has previously publicly condemned actions to evict Maasai peoples from their lands. In 2009, more than 200 homes were burned and 3,000 Masaai made homeless, and in February 2014, another 100 homes were burned, essentially evicting a further 2,000-3,000 Maasai.
President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, stated on Twitter in November 2014 that that “there has never been, nor will there ever be any plan by the Government of Tanzania to evict the Maasai people from their ancestral land.” However, recent events seem to indicate that government discussions with companies for use of Maasai lands have continued since that date.
Anouska Perram, a human rights lawyer at Forest Peoples Programme, said: “It is clear that illegal tactics – including prolonged detention with charge, physical violence and refusing access to legal and medical support – are being used to intimidate the Maasai opposing government plans for their lands. Many of the people whose lands could be affected have also been warned to stay silent on the issue. It has not escaped our notice that these events have occurred at a time when discussions are occurring about the sale of land to the Ortello Business Corporation.”
Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), in a statement, called for the immediate halt of arrests, the cessation of all intimidation tactics against Maasai and their supporters, and for all charges to be dropped against those Maasai already arrested (and now released on bail).
Those arrested were listed by the FFP to include:
- Clinton Kairungi – Teacher at Ololosokwan secondary school
- SupukDaniel – Teacher at Olemaoi secondary school
- SamwelNangiria – Director of Ngorongoro NGO Network
- Joshua Makko – Chairman of Mondorus village
- Mathew Olietman – Former MP of Ngorongoro district
- Parkios – Chairman of Soisambu village
- John Toroge – Traditional leader of Soisambu
- Shilinde – Lawyer from Legal and Human Rights Centre (who went to the police station to represent the arrested)
- Lilian – Wife of detainee Samwel Nangiria
- Yanick Ndoinyo – Elected Councillor for Ololosokwan Village
- Hon. Ndima (Tina) Timan – Elected Special Seat Councillor for Chadema
Another eight community members are said to have also been arrested.