Tanzanian police arrest activist whose employers thought had been abducted

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DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – Tanzanian police said on Friday they had arrested a human rights activist in the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam hours after the rights group that employs him said he was snatched off the street by men in civilian clothes.

Police arrested activist Tito Magoti with three other unnamed people on Friday on “various allegations”, Dar es Salaam’s police chief Lazaro Mambosasa told reporters.

He did not give details.

Police earlier said they had no information on Magoti after his organisation alleged he had been abducted, in what initially appeared to be the latest in a series of abductions in the East African nation.

    “We have received distressing news that our officer at the public education unit, Tito Magoti, has been abducted by people in civilian clothes at the Mwenge area in Dar es Salaam,” Dar es Salaam-based Legal and Human Rights Centre said on Twitter.

The group that employs Magoti has been a vocal advocate for rights in Tanzania, including demanding an investigation into an assassination attempt on leading opposition figure Tundu Lissu, who was shot 16 times by unknown gunmen in September 2017.   

Since President John Magufuli was elected in late 2015, Tanzania has tightened control of the media and civil society, shutting newspapers and websites, and arrested opposition leaders and restricted political rallies.

The 60-year-old has been nicknamed “The Bulldozer”, partly for his forceful leadership style.

    He denies restricting media freedom and cracking down on democracy and human rights.

Last year, Africa’s youngest billionaire and Tanzanian businessman Mohammed Dewji was abducted outside a luxury hotel in Dar es Salaam. He was returned home safely a week later, but has not disclosed details of the incident aside from thanking the police at the time.

Other prominent Tanzanians have gone missing in recent years. Tanzania said in July it did not know whether investigative journalist Azory Gwanda, who went missing in November 2017 while investigating a series of murders of police and ruling party officials, was dead or alive.

Editing by Giulia Paravicini, Maggie Fick and Nick Macfie

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