By Washington Gikunju & the Citizen
Four Tanzanian opposition politicians have fled to Kenya, citing safety concerns, even as President John Pombe Magufuli remains out of the public eye for the 17th day running.
The four, who hail from Rorya district in the north of the country, held council ward representative (councillor) positions between 2015 and 2020. They were elected on opposition Chadema party tickets.
The politicians said they are facing persecution for rejecting the outcome of the October 2020 polls, in which Mr Magufuli was re-elected president.
"I have been arrested and taken to court on trumped-up charges yet I was just complaining against ballot stuffing. I fear for my life and cannot bear living in Tanzania anymore," Mr Ngai Kagose Mawinda, who represented Rabour Ward, said.
His colleagues Lazaro Kitori Edwin (Mkoma Ward), Edward Jacaduogo Ndege (Nyaongo Ward) and Andrew Mng'osi Nyakriga (Ikoma Ward) are in Nairobi after crossing the border between Monday and Tuesday.
The lawyer of the four politicians, George Luchiri Wajackoyah, said they are seeking asylum in Kenya.
Two of the leaders have been registered with the Refugee Affairs Secretariat while documents of the remaining are being processed.
Losing opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu fled Tanzania in November. He is in Belgium.
Godbless Lema, a former MP for Arusha Urban constituency, crossed by road into Kenya with his wife and three children.
The family was later granted asylum in Canada.
President Magufuli was nicknamed "bulldozer" owing to his fight against corruption when he took office in 2015.
He has, however, been accused of violating human rights and media freedom.
Journalists and political and civil rights activists perceived to be anti-establishment have been thrown in prison.
Police on Monday stepped up arrests of people accused of spreading rumours about the president's health on social media platforms.
On the same day, Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan said it is normal for anybody to fall sick but Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa maintained that the president is in good health and at work.
The president has not been seen in public since February 27.
Police in Kilimanjaro are holding two people on suspicion of spreading false information concerning senior government officials' health.
This brings to four the number of people accused of spreading fabricated information related to the health of President Magufuli. Two others were arrested on Sunday and Saturday.
Acting Kilimanjaro Regional Police Commander Ronald Makona said the suspects were arrested on different occasions.
"The Kilimanjaro Regional Police Force has arrested Peter Pius Silayo and Melchiory Prosper Shayo for distributing fabricated information on social media that senior government officials are ill, thereby violating the Cybercrimes Act," Mr Makona said.
Mr Silayo, 30 - a resident of Tegeta in Dar es Salaam - was arrested in Kibaoni - while Shayo, 36, is a resident of Keni also in Rombo District.
The police boss added that the two would appear in court when investigations are complete.
Iringa Regional Police Force arrested Mr Tito Augustino Kiliwa, a resident of Mufindi, on Sunday.
Police accused him of posting on Facebook information that President Magufuli was ill.
Acting Regional Police Commander Rienada Millanzi said the suspect wrote on Facebook on March 11 that the President was ill, "a message that evoked emotions and caused a stir in the community".
"When you talk about the president being ill if you are not the authorised official, it is a mistake we must take action against," the acting police boss said as quoted by various media outlets in Tanzania.
This article was published by Daily Nation.