Tanzania's president meets opposition leader Mbowe hours after he is freed

Freeman Mbowe, is escorted as he arrives at a court, where he is facing terrorism-related charges. February 18, 2022. [Reuters]

Tanzania's president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, on Friday met with the main opposition party's leader, Freeman Mbowe, the presidency said, hours after prosecutors dropped terrorism charges against Mbowe and set him free.

Mbowe, chairman of Chadema party, was detained last July in the lakeside town of Mwanza where he was due to attend a conference on proposals for a new constitution.

"President Samia emphasised the need to join hands to build the nation, through trust and respect built on the foundations of justice," her office said in a statement, announcing the meeting.

The statement quoted Mbowe saying they had agreed to be civil in their politics, and that he would cooperate with the government in its quest to develop the East African country.

He was charged in court on July 26, in spite of protests from his party that the charges were politically motivated.

Freeman Mbowe (C) arrives at Kisutu Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 10, 2020. [Reuters]

"The director of prosecutions has dropped charges of economic crimes and terrorism," Chadema said on its Twitter feed. Three co-accused were also freed, the party said.

Mbowe's supporters, who had flocked into court to follow the trial, cheered after the decision to drop the charges was announced, while his lawyers hugged each other.

His detention and trial had raised questions about Hassan's commitment to greater tolerance for political dissent.

Hassan, who took over after the death of her predecessor John Magufuli in March last year, lifted a ban on four newspapers and met the exiled top opposition leader in Brussels last month, stirring hopes of greater tolerance for political dissent.

Government officials deny accusations of rights violations and stifling democracy. The government's partners welcomed Mbowe's freedom.

"Today's dismissal of the case against Freeman Mbowe is a welcome opportunity for Tanzania to turn the page and focus on the future," said Donald Wright, the U.S. ambassador to Tanzania.