Continued detention of Tanzanian human rights defenders in Malawi on uranium mining visit in



Eight Tanzanian human rights defenders have been detained in Malawi since 20 December. They were in the country for tour on mining governance in Karonga including a visit to Kayelekera Uranium Mine. Below find Bright Phiri of Commons for EcoJustice’s clarification on the arrest of  the Tanzanians and two press releases from MenschenRechte (2 February 2017) and Front Line Defenders (20 January 2017).

Follow Front Line Defender’s updates here.

Commons for EcoJustice’s Clarification on 8 Tanzanians arrested in Karonga

Profile of the suspects

The eight Tanzanians1 arrested in Karonga are a group of Environmentalists from Songea and includes members of Tanzania Mineral Miners Trust Fund (TMMTF) and Cooperants from CARITAS (a development organization under the Archdiocese of Songea working with urban and rural poor communities in the Archdiocese) as well as from MVIWATA, a peasants organization. CARITAS and TMMTF partnered to form a small consortium called Tanzania Uranium awareness mission (TUAM) -a platform for knowledge exchange and information sharing on the socio-economic and environmental impacts related to mining and extractives. Some of the suspects have previously been involved in cross-learning on abandoned and non-rehabilitated uranium and gold mines in Gauteng in the Republic of South Africa.

Commons for EcoJustice (EcoJustice)2 has established that the eight Tanzanians entered Malawi legally on 19 December 2016 through the Songwe border immigration post and their passports were cleared and stamped by Malawi authorities. Prior to their departure from Songea in Tanzania, a local organization in Malawi called Karonga Business Community had formalized their cross-learning visit to the Malawi case study and sent the group necessary logistical details to necessitate their travel including an invitation letter to Malawi. Upon their arrival at Songwe border post, the group were met by Emmanuel Silungwe representing Karonga Business Community and they hired a min-bus to a Lodge (Safari lodge) some miles away within Karonga. Silungwe checked in the group at this Safari lodge and as their host, he held a discussion with the group on the same day in the afternoon and discussed the tour programme. Their visit was planned to last 2 days.

On 20 December 2016, these 8 Tanzanians were joined by Silungwe, a senior security guard from Kayelekera Uranium mine and a min bus driver including two other Malawians (may be guides) and left the lodge to a village in the vicinity of the mine (at that point, Silungwe and the security guard notified the visiting Tanzanians that the mine is ‘not operational” / in the process of being decommissioned and therefore the tour would be restricted to the effluents outside the mining zone. But moments after leaving the lodge, Malawi Police intercepted the min-bus and ordered the group to follow them to the Karonga Police unit.

It was at the Police that the 13 persons were grouped into two (one for the 8 Tanzanians and the other for the 5 Malawians). Eventually the 5 Malawians were cleared and set free while the 8 Tanzanians were put in custody for 2 nights and later appeared before Karonga magistrate court for plea but without any legal representation nor a proper translator from English to Swahili.

Charge of criminal trespassing
While it is important not to prejudice the Police investigations as the case of the 8
Tanzanians will be brought before the Karonga Magistrate court on 17 January 2017, we want to put it on record that not even criminal trespassing fits ‘the bill’ of their arrest. Now we know that the senior security guard for Kayelekera Uranium mine was actively involved in organizing logistics for their “cross-learning and even pocketed MK20,000 that was paid to him in cash as allowance.

The Malawi authorities have unfairly incarcerated the 8 Tanzanians only while the 5 Malawians including host local organization that played key roles in the tour and were part of the group are not been prosecuted.

Allegations of ‘spying”

On 23 December the 8 suspects were transferred to Mzuzu prison on remand charged with criminal trespassing. The issue immediately went viral on the social media and now it is common knowledge the 8 are being labelled as “Tanzania spies’ to monitor potential militarization of the Kayelekera Uranium mining project. The Daily Times newspaper of 30 December 2016 even gave the issue front-page coverage without soliciting views from the ‘other side of the coin”. In fact the article in the Daily Times newspaper has not only assassinated ‘characters’ of the 8 now in detention, but has potentially dragged ‘ordinary individuals’ into an international dispute involving neighbouring countries. The hype on ‘espionage’ on the social media is still raging on.

On the contrary, we have reliably established that 4 of the 8 suspects are merely Standard 7 dropouts who can hardly read and write let alone speak English nor demonstrate technical understanding of nuclear science or covert intelligence gathering operations. And one of the suspects, Ashura Kyula is an old woman in her late 60s and a peasant farmer from Songea area who can hardly understand the charges behind her continued detention.

Detectives exploited her lack of knowledge on her entitlement to social rights and
administrative justice by forcing her (at Mzuzu prison) to sign an exhibit she never
authored in the pretext that when she signs the exhibit (sketch of Kayelekera Uranium
mine depicting production flow which was taken from the senior security guard of
Kayelekera on 20 December 2016), she will walk free the next day. In our own
understanding, espionage deals with the aspects and elements of ‘operating undetected”.

In is baffling to imagine that a country can dispatch a group of up to 8 operatives to gather classified data and still retain the element of ‘not being detected (8 spies moving together in a vehicle during daytime is unheard of). Again, covert operations are supposed to be concealed endeavours. But these 8 Tanzanians interacted with the community and their host openly and entered Malawi through normal immigration procedure. The Kayelekera Uranium mining project has been an economic liability to Malawi and issues and concerns related to Kayelekera Uranium mine have been well documented and already in the public domain3 . The public needs to be informed that on the other side of the Malawi border with Tanzania, uranium mining projects similar in scope to Kayelekera are being considered for implementation. In Southern Tanzania, about 470km southwest of Dar-es Salaam, Mkuju River uranium mining project is at an advanced stage of exploration and further exploration is being conducted at Mgombasi ward in Nangelo and Myumnati Maji villages.

Virtually all the 8 suspects are members of the society in these uranium mining sites and have a stake to ‘interface’ with already existing projects with similar ecosystems (Kayelekera being one of the case studies sampled). The bottom line is the burden rests with the state to legally substantiate the issue of ‘espionage’ in the court of law.

TEL: +265 (0) 111 585 700

MENSCHENRECHTE (HumanRights) 3000 e.V. P. O. Press Release (2 February 2017):

Box 5102 79018 Freiburg GERMANY
Phone: +49 – 761 48977100 [email protected]

Statement to the Media re: 8 Tanzanians detained in Malawi
In short …

On 22.December 2016, a group of 8 Tanzanians was arrested in Karonga, Malawi.
The group is part of TUAM – Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission, Songea, a platform in Songea / Namtumbo region of Tanzania, seeking first-hand information on uranium mining and its impacts on the environment, on the economics, on health of people etc. By no means was the group on a trip trying to get information on mineral deposits or spying the country of Malawi as per the Malawian media.

When the group was intercepted by police, they were accompanied by members of a hosting organization from Malawi which had dealt with the issue of uranium and others mines in a critical manner before.

While the group was accused of “trespassing”, the Malawians in their companionship were released right away whereas the Tanzanians were arrested.

The arrest of the 8 nearly immediately caused a hype in some Malawian media, and although there was no trace of proof, certain Malawian media kept pushing the “spy story”, taking things even so far saying the 8 Tanzanians would be “spies” sent by the Tanzanian Government to spy whether Malawi would be making “nuclear weapons” at the Kayelekera Uranium Mine.

After three weeks of allegations in the media, accusations changed repeatedly from “trespassing ”to “collecting confidential information without permission” to “espionage” – and back again to “trespassing” and “carrying out a reconnaissance operation without permit”.

To date,no judgement has been rendered due to the delayed investigation and repeated postponements of the court session.

Human and Civil Rights violations …

At first, the case took so long to be brought to the court (22. Dec 2016 – 17. Jan 2017)
When the case was brought to the court on 17.January 2017, the day was spent mainly by getting an appropriate English-Swahili translator, entering a plea of guilty or not guilty and discussing bail conditions, to no avail.

The detained persons, however, suffered a series of human and civil rights violations: (Violation of UNITED NATIONS International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1976, signed by Malawi in 1993, Article 9, Article 14 [3] )

  • One older person (lady) of the group, who does not understand English, was motioned in custody to sign a paper under the pretense that the group would be released once she signed.
  • Access of lawyers was extremely restricted, at times completely barred
  • Access of representatives of the Tanzania Embassy (“High Commission”) in Malawi was at times barred (later, after writing a letter of seeking a permission to visit the detained persons, access was given to the Ambassador)
  • Conversations between lawyers and detained persons have been allowed only under surveillance of heavily armed security forces.
  • Conversations between lawyers and detained persons have been overheard by the heavily armed police / security forces.
  • Before the first day of court session, the detainees were refused food for 24 hrs. and they were motioned, in custody, to plead “guilty” (which they refused).
  • Lawyers of the 8 detained persons were intimidated, followed around and photographed by police / secret or security services to an extent that they felt their safety is threatened.
  • Charges, statements of the accused persons and other documents were given/served to a lawyer by public prosecutor at the last minute of the case after a series of follow ups.

International Attention on the case

The case has attracted much attention from outside Malawi: Dozens of individuals and NGOs addressed Malawian authorities expressing their concerns for a fair trial and / or asking for an immediate release of the 8 detained persons.

Among the concerned persons are Members of the German Parliament, of IPPNW – International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, Switzerland and Germany, Austrian nuclear-free NGO PLAGE, Salzburg / Austria.

Internationally renowned human rights organization FRONTLINE DEFENDERS picked up the case and issued an URGENT APPEAL:, and below press release).

Further postponements give rise to concerns over fair and just trial

The continuation of the court session has been repeatedly postponed:

  • After the first day in court 17.January, the court had adjourned and wanted to continue on 23. and 24.January.
  • Late on Sunday, 22.January the lawyers were notified that the case has been postponed since the magistrate/judge had been called to Lilongwe for a meeting. The court session then was supposed to resume on Friday, 27.January.
  • A little later, the lawyers were notified that the court session would be postponed to Monday 30. and Tuesday 31.Jan. since TWO consecutive days would be needed to conclude the case.
  • On Sunday 29.January afternoon, the lawyers were notified that the court session would again be postponed due to the death of a relative of a magistrate.
  • On Monday, 30.January, they were told the case would continue only on Friday 3rd February which also got changed to Monday 6. and Tuesday 7. February.
  • On 1st February, the lawyer was told the case would continue on 7. and 8. February, however there is no assurance whether those dates will be honoured or again postponed.
  • As of 2nd February 2017, the lawyers were notified that the continuation of the court case on 7. and 8. February is not assured; obviously the magistrate / judge and the state prosecutor cannot agree on one date as the state prosecutor will not be available on the specified dates, that means only one of them is available at a given date.
  • On Thursday, 2nd February, the detained persons are finishing a sixth week in prison for allegedly collecting information “without a permit”. Human rights organizations now are concerned about a fair trial in the upcoming court sessions.

The detained persons have been pre-judged severely by media which tried to label them as “spies”. Their treatment during detention gives reason for concern about the impartiality and the rule of law in the continuation of the court proceedings. The repeated postponement of the court session raises questions about the reason and objectives for these postponements.

Because of the postponements, the detained persons are now facing a sixth week in detention – under humanitarian and legal aspects a serious imbalance in the face of the charges made.

In addition, the issue of being escorted by heavily armed police forces like terrorists and not being granted their right to access public phones in prison to communicate with their lawyers and families like other Malawians in prison raises also a lot of questions and presumption that they have already been pre-judged.

Background Information

In Tanzania, Uranium One and ROSATOM plan to establish a uranium mine, Mkuju River Project, in the South of Tanzania / Songea area (actually, the mine would be inside the World Heritage site Selous Game Reserve).

People in the area are concerned about the environmental, social and human rights impacts of such a mining project. They formed a platform, “TUAM –Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission, Songea”, including organizations such as MVIWATA, a peasants organization as well as TMMTF –Tanzania Mineral Miners Trust Fund (an artisanal miners NGO concerned about the impacts of uranium mining) and CARITAS, Local office in Songea.

They are striving to learn about uranium mining and its impacts first-hand; some of them attended national and international educational conferences and events in the past.

Since Kayelekera uranium mine – currently mothballed due to the low price of uranium – is comparatively close to the Songea region in Tanzania, the group planned to visit the mine site in order to get some first-hand impressions and information about the impacts and benefits of the mining project.

+ + +

For any questions:

Gunter Wippel MENSCHENRECHTE (HumanRights) 3000 e.V., Germany [email protected] phone: +49 – 761 – 48 977 100 cellphone: +49 – 162 – 822 87 17

Flaviana Charles *(Advocate)* Executive Director-Business and Human Rights Tanzania (BHRT); Secretary General-African Bar Association (AFBA) Former Vice President-Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) P.O.BOX 80105, Dar es Salaam. Mobile: +255 75 54 55 555 Skype: flaviana.charles Email: [email protected]

BRIGHT THAMIE PHIRI – BUREAU ADVOCATE Commons for EcoJustice P.O. Box 438 Lilongwe. Malawi Tel: +265 (0) 111 585 700 Mobile: +265 (0) 995 522 882 Skype: brightphiri

Front Line Defenders Press Release (20 January 2017): 

Malawi: Continued detention of eight Tanzanian environmental defenders, and intimidatory acts against their lawyers

On 17 January 2017, a magistrate’s court in Malawi formally opened a criminal case against eight Tanzanian environmental defenders detained since 20 December 2016. They were in Malawi in connection with a planned cross-learning tour on mining governance in Karonga. The tour involved a visit to the Kayelekera uranium mine and was prepared in close collaboration with a senior security guard at the mine. In the aftermath of the court hearing, their lawyers reported being subjected to a number of intimidatory acts from individuals with links to the Malawian security services

The eight environmental defenders, namely Mr Briton Mateus Mgaya, Mr Wakisa Elias
Mwansangu, Mr Majidi Nkota, Mr Christandusi Ngowi, Ms Ashura Kyula, Mr Martin Guido Ndunguru, Mr Wilbert Mahundi and Mr Rainery Komba are all from Songea, Tanzania, and are affiliated with various civil society groups, some of which initiated a small consortium called Tanzania Uranium Awareness Mission (TUAM). TUAM is a platform for knowledge exchange and information sharing on the socio-economic and environmental impacts related to mining and extractives. They have emphasised cross-learning on democratic ownership and transparency in the mining sector, and some had even taken part in similar visits to countries other than Malawi.

On 20 December 2016, a day after they entered Malawi, the eight Tanzanian environmental defenders were intercepted by Malawian police moments after leaving their lodge to go to the Kayekera Uranium Mine. They were accompanied by five Malawians. The police ordered the whole group to follow them to the Karonga police unit. The Tanzanians were automatically held in police custody while their counterparts from Malawi were set free. The detained defenders were eventually taken to Mzuzu prison where detention conditions are reported to be characterized by overcrowding, poor sanitation and malnutrition.

Until 17 January 2017, when the case was brought before the Karonga Magistrate Court, there was some confusion on the allegations against the defenders. The police had hinted those allegations were “criminal trespassing” and “spying”; and the local media, including social media, featured a smear campaign against the defenders while suggesting that their cross-learning visit was nothing more than “cover for an act of “espionage. At the opening of the trial, the detained defenders were notified that they stood charged with “entering upon the premises of Kayekera Uranium Mine withintent to commit an offence” and “carrying out a reconnaissance operation without a licence.” The trial was postponed until 26 January 2017.

Meanwhile the lawyers trying to assist the detained defenders have reported instances where members of the police took their photographs, trailed the cars they were being transported in, and at least once confronted them with such questions as “why are you here?”, “where are you staying?”.

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of the 8 detained Tanzanian environmental defenders and it believes they are being judicially harassed as a result of their legitimate and peaceful human rights work.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Malawi to:

  1. Immediately and unconditionally release the eight Tanzanian human rights defenders, as Front Line Defenders believes that they are being held solely as a result of their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
  2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of the eight Tanzanian human rights defenders while in prison and ensure that the treatment of each of the human rights defenders, while in detention, adheres to the conditions set out in the ‘Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment’, adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 43/173 of 9 December 1988;
  3. Take all necessary measures to guarantee to halt harassment of the lawyers involved in this case to ensure that the human rights defenders have access to a fair trial;
  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Malawi are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

    Philipp Woschitz
    Advocacy Officer
    Front Line Defenders EU Office
    Square Marie-Louise 72
    B-1000 Brussels
    Tel: +32 2 230 93 83
    Mobile: +32 497 399 205
    Fax: +32 2 230 00 28
    Email: [email protected]
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2 responses to “Continued detention of Tanzanian human rights defenders in Malawi on uranium mining visit in

  1. Pingback: Malawi’s Mining, Oil and Gas News #23: February 2017 | Mining in Malawi·

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