Disbarment, arrest and detention of lawyers in Tanzania

Who we wrote to

The president of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli.

What's the issue

We’re gravely concerned about attacks on lawyers and the independence of the legal profession in Tanzania, which takes the form of disbarments, arrest and detention, and legislative proposals.

Lawyer Fatma Karume

Fatma Karume was recently disbarred, following the Advocates' Disciplinary Committee decision of 23 September 2020 for statements made in written submissions as well as comments she made on Twitter.

On 20 September 2019, Ms Karume had been suspended as a lawyer by the Tanzanian High Court, which referred the case of her alleged professional misconduct to the  committee.

We’re concerned that the High Court suspended Ms Karume from legal practice, even though that court itself recognised that the matter had to be dealt with by a “proper and unfettered forum” and that she had a right to be heard.

Lawyers Jebra Kambole and Edson Kilatu

On 10 March 2020, Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court found nine opposition party leaders guilty of criminal offences, including unlawful assembly, rioting and sedition, and sentenced them to payment of a total of 350 million Tanzanian schillings or a five-month prison term.

The lawyer Jebra Kambole represented some of those convicted and allegedly posted a “contemptuous” message on social media regarding Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court. The attorney general of Tanzania filed an application to the Advocates Committee arguing that this post constituted a “criminal act” that had a “seditious intention”.

On 8 August 2020, the lawyer Edson Kilatu allegedly posted a message on Facebook that “malign[ed] the confidence of the Court of Appeal” of Tanzania.

On 8 October 2020, the attorney general applied to the Advocates' Committee to disbar both lawyers for “gross professional misconduct”.

We believe that the disbarment of Ms Karume and the applications to disbar lawyers Mr Kambole and Mr Kilatu represent inappropriate interferences with their work as lawyers, aimed at preventing them from carrying out their professional duties.

Lawyer Tito Elia Magoti

Tito Elia Magoti is a lawyer employed as programme officer for mass education by the Legal and Human Rights Centre, an organisation that advocates for human rights and good governance in Tanzania.

Mr Magoti was abducted on 20 December 2019 in Dar es Salaam by four unidentified men. That same day, police authorities acknowledged his detention but did not disclose his whereabouts nor the legal basis for his arrest.

Mr Magoti was denied access to a legal representative and his family. He was interrogated by the police about his use of social media and alleged association with persons who are critical of the government of Tanzania.

He was eventually charged with criminal offences, including “leading organised crime” and money-laundering, for which release on bail is impossible under Tanzanian law (itself in clear violation of Tanzania’s international treaty obligations on pre-trial detention).

Mr Magoti remains in detention, even though the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) in Opinion No. 38/2020 of August 2020 concluded that his arrest and detention were arbitrary.

 

These attacks on lawyers take place in the context of other initiatives to erode the independence of the legal profession in Tanzania.

We’re especially concerned about recent efforts of the government to restrict the independence of the Tanganyika Law Society through the recent amendment of the Tanganyika Law Society Act, pursuant to the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No. 8) Act, 2019.

These amendments include:

  • greater restrictions on the eligibility of membership of its council
  • restrictions on access to its annual general meeting
  • restrictions of the terms of council members
  • the requirement that the Tanganyika Law Society must submit audited accounts, annual reports, and minutes of all general meetings to the minister for legal affairs

What we asked for

We urge the relevant authorities in Tanzania to:

  • reverse the decision to disbar Fatma Karume and reinstate her as a lawyer
  • refrain from taking any disciplinary action against the lawyers Jebra Kambole and Edson Kilatu
  • discontinue any proceedings against the three lawyers mentioned unless credible evidence is presented in proceedings that are in line with international fair trial guarantees, including the right to be heard and prepare an adequate defence
  • immediately release the lawyer Tito Magoti and drop the charges against him, unless credible evidence is presented in proceedings that are in line with international fair trial guarantees, including the right to be heard and prepare an adequate defence
  • reverse any action taken, and refrain from taking any further action, that may negatively affect the independence of the Tanganyika Law Society
  • ensure compliance with Tanzania’s international legal obligations, specifically the right to a fair trial, as well as the rights to freedom of expression and association
  • ensure that all lawyers in Tanzania can practice their profession without undue interference in compliance with international standards on the independence of the legal profession

We’ll continue to monitor the situation of Ms Karume, Mr Kambole, Mr Kilatu, and Mr Magoti, as well as that of other lawyers in Tanzania.

Timeline

8 October 2020 – the attorney general applied to the Advocates Committee to disbar Mr Kambole and Mr Kilatu for “gross professional misconduct”

23 September 2020 – following a decision of the Advocates’ Disciplinary Committee, Ms Karume was disbarred

20 September 2019 – Ms Karume suspended as a lawyer by the Tanzanian High Court

8 August 2020 – Mr Kilatu allegedly posted a message on Facebook that “malign[ed] the confidence of the Court of Appeal” of Tanzania

10 March 2020 – Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court found nine opposition party leaders guilty of criminal offences

20 December 2019 – Mr Magoti was abducted in Dar es Salaam by four unidentified men