The leader of Tanzania's main opposition party, Freeman Mbowe, has a case to answer on charges of plotting acts of terrorism against government officials, a court said on Friday, prolonging a trial that some see as political.
In a decision read by Judge Joachim Tiganga, the court found that the prosecution had submitted enough evidence against Mbowe and three co-accused for the trial to proceed to the next stage, when they will put their defence.
Supporters of Mbowe, who is accused of financing acts of terrorism among other charges, broke down in tears after the ruling.
Mbowe was detained last July in the lakeside town of Mwanza where he was due to attend a conference, fronted by his Chadema party, on proposals for a new constitution.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who took over after the death of her predecessor John Magufuli in March last year, lifted a ban on four newspapers this month and met the exiled top opposition leader in Brussels this week, stirring hopes of greater tolerance for political dissent. read more
Government officials deny accusations of rights violations and stifling democracy.
But the continued detention of Mbowe, who is the chairman of Chadema, casts doubt on Hassan's commitment to reform, human rights activists said.
"The president has power constitutionally and legally through the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) to do anything in order to ensure that this case ends in an environment that will bring unity to our nation," said Onesmo Olengurumwa, the co-ordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition.