We dare say we are a free people? The Scourge of Corruption taking its toll on Tanzanians (and foreigners alike) By an Innocent Bystander The level of corruption in the Tanzania Police Force has reached staggering heights. It has now become commonplace that, Officers in Charge of the Station (OCS) demand and insist that the investigative officers (detectives), first, make attempt to recover stolen property from apprehended suspects, and second, when that fails, they charge them whether or not there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. This causes many innocent persons to go to jail simply because, during the process of their apprehension into police custody, several of their rights were denied, and due process of the law was not accorded to them. For example, it is common for apprehended suspects to be severely beaten using special wood batons that are issued to the police, but most often, those that are used in the abuse of suspects are of the home-made variety. They are larger and heavier, made of hardwood, affecting the most damage and excruciating pain to the weak human body. Any apprehended suspect would say anything in order to have the police stop their torture, and when the case finally goes to court; their illegally obtained statements from the suspects are used as the "gospel truth", that is, incontrovertible evidence. Not being conversant with the law and not being accorded with legal aid – as there is no current mechanism that allows legal representation to criminal suspects in Tanzania – they fail to properly represent themselves in court, thereby end up being convicted of crimes they have not committed. As it turns out, the right to legal representation is not de facto in Tanzania; it is an option. If one can afford a lawyer, either through their family and relatives, one gets such a lawyer. But we have to remind ourselves that, due to this scourge of corruption, the very basic constitutional rights are often denied to citizens when they are arrested by the police. The right to legal representation: When someone is arrested, he has the right to make a phone call to either a close relative or their legal counsel, thus informing them that they are in police custody. This, in essence, ensures that they are accorded legal representation from the very first moment when they are taken into police custody. The arresting officers never carry out this legal responsibility stipulated by law, thus denying citizens their basic rights as prescribed in the Constitution. The right to be informed of charges facing them: When someone is arrested, the first thing they are supposed to be informed by the arresting officer is the charges that they are facing, and by this, they are supposed to be shown the Arrest Warrant, which is an official, legal document that stipulates all the charges being levied upon them. Again, due to the current, on-going and mainstream corruption-instigated miscarriage of justice and rampant violations of the Constitution, this never happens. The right to bail: When someone is held in police custody, he has the right to be given either police bail or court bail, within 24 hours. This means that, within that time, the arresting officers, together with the police detective in charge of the particular case, must sufficiently allocate time to the case in order to ensure that the suspect is either given police bail – all legal procedures for obtaining the requisite sureties being followed – or taken to court, whether, having met the conditions for bail, the suspect is either released on bail, or held in remand, pending meeting bail conditions as prescribed by the court. Only suspects in murder cases and armed robbery cases are not eligible for bail, but in some cases, armed robbery suspects have been eligible for bail, at the discretion of the court. Once again, this basic right is always denied. It is very rare for suspects to be accorded this right, and when they are accorded police bail, often a hefty bribe is paid by relatives of the suspects. This leads to a gross miscarriage of justice, as often, real criminals are released on police bail, simply because they have the money needed by the police to set them free. Corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judiciary, is taking a heavy toll on the lives and livelihoods of Tanzanians. There are cases of people having been convicted of even murder in the first degree, but end up being released several years later, after the hard efforts of human rights lawyers manage to get them acquitted, on the count of "insufficient evidence", as is always often the case. When they come out, years – often decades – after having been in prison, they find out their entire lives have been ruined. Their families are often separated and nowhere to be found; if they had any property, its whereabouts are unknown; if they had built houses, those houses may have either been sold and demolished to pave way for better houses; in essence, they find themselves WITHOUT A LIFE, and with no one to compensate them for their wrongful imprisonment. It is a wonder when human rights lawyers will start representing these people to make sure they are back on their feet. When this madness will stop, God only knows. The promise made by President Kikwete when he first went into office, that a Special Commission would be formed, to oversee and review how the Police and Judiciary carry out the enforcement and dispensing of justice, has yet to be materialized. Meanwhile, scores of innocent civilians – both young and old – are languishing in our prisons, having been convicted of crimes not committed. Worse case scenarios, some people have multiple cases thrown upon them, of crimes committed while they were in remand or in prison. And we dare say we are a free people when one can go to jail simply because they did not have ten thousand shillings to bribe a police corporal? An example of a gross miscarriage of justice that I witnessed was when my dear friend (name withheld) who was a non-citizen was arrested and detained by the police, operating with a civilian cohort, in an attempt to extort money from him. The shocking miscarriage of justice was when the case finally went to court, altogether with an official police document – the charge sheet – which the overseeing judge never thought to question its logic. How can it be possible that a limited liability company (as a legal entity) file criminal charges against its owner, the managing director, those charges being instigated by a civilian who has no legal authority whatsoever in the said company? In essence, the question is: Can you be accused of stealing from yourself? Apparently this is possible. Nevertheless, one year later, the case was dismissed. You guessed it: Lack of evidence! But an innocent man, a civilian, a foreigner, was arrested, detained by police, and later sent to the remand, on a non-existent criminal charge! The motivation for this case was to extort money from the plaintiff, when that failed, ludicrous charges against him ensued. Question: How many foreigners in Tanzania have been subjected to this kind of illegal treatment by the police? The modus operandi seems to be very common. We can change this situation by being adamant in our resolve towards the law, law enforcement and the judiciary. We have kept silent about the ill treatment of innocent civilians who fall into the hands of the police, simply because they are not our relatives. We turn a blind eye to injustice and police brutality, while forgetting that we – no matter our social, economic and/or political status – are not immune to the same brand of justice by the police. When we finally fall into those hands is when we realize we should have taken a stand; usually that is a little late, as damage is already done. No matter how innocent or guilty one may be, one should not have to suffer any type of abuse at the hands of the police. These are gross violations of the freedoms and rights prescribed upon the sovereign – the people – in their constitution; how can the organs that were established by sovereign come back to haunt the sovereign itself? It is time for us to take a stand, correct our mistakes, be held accountable for our ignorance – deliberate or accidental – for our nonchalant apathy will only make matters worse, not better. What kind of a legacy are we going to leave for our children and our children's children? Are we willing to leave them with a lawless society, where justice is bought and sold to the highest bidder, like a commodity? You think about it; think very hard about it. And then take a stand. P.S. The law stipulates that all criminal cases must be prosecuted in court within 60 days. During such a period, the prosecution – together with the police – must complete their investigation and present their side of the case in court. There are several cases now pending in our courts, with citizens being held in remand for more than 18 months! YET, the Courts don't have the wisdom to declare these cases invalid and free the suspects, who are being sheltered and fed at taxpayers' expense?