Tanzania frees 24 Maasai protesters after five months

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Twenty-four Maasai villagers accused of killing a police officer have been freed. (iStock)
Twenty-four Maasai villagers accused of killing a police officer have been freed. (iStock)
  • Twenty-four Maasai villagers were arrested on allegations of killing a police officer.
  • Amnesty International calls on government to give back 1 500 square kilometres of ancestral land.
  • At least 32 Maasai villagers were shot during protests.

Twenty-four Maasai villagers accused of killing a police officer during violent clashes when resisting relocation from their ancestral land in June this year have been released from custody.

Tanzania’s director of public prosecution, Sylvester Anthony Mwakitalu said the charges of murder and conspiracy to murder against the group, which includes 10 leaders, should be dropped.

The decision was welcomed by Amnesty International (AI), which has been at the forefront of seeking justice for the Maasai to keep their land.

"Dropping these charges against members of the Maasai people is unequivocally the right decision. They should never have been arrested in the first place. Their only ‘crime’ was exercising their right to protest while security forces tried to seize land from them in the name of ‘conservation’," said Muleya Mwananyanda, AI's regional director for East and Southern Africa.

The clashes happened on the eve of an East African Court of Justice (EACJ) ruling in a case where Tanzania was being sued by the Maasai people over the government's plan to relocate them from their ancestral land to create a wildlife corridor for trophy hunting and elite tourism.

But after the clashes, the ruling was postponed to September when the Maasai provisionally won the right to stay on the land.

Tanzania maintains that indigenous peoples are not legally recognised in Tanzania and, as such, the land belongs to the state.

Mwananyanda said Tanzania should stop suppressing the Maasai and return the land.

"The Tanzanian authorities must immediately stop their ongoing security operations in Loliondo and ensure that any traditional pastoral lands they have seized are returned to the indigenous Maasai.

"Tanzania should immediately stop suppressing the right to freedom of assembly. The government should instead take steps to protect the right to protest,” he said.

Violence in June

The Maasai people were forcibly evicted from Loliondo on 7 June 2022 by Tanzanian security forces from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area without giving them enough advance notice, compensation, or a chance for meaningful consultation. 

The state seized 1 500 square kilometres of ancestral land occupied by about 70 000 Maasai people.

Maasai, from the Loliondo settlements of Ololosokwan, Oloirien, Kirtalo, and Arash, which border the Serengeti National Park, gathered on 9 June to protest against the exercise by taking down security forces' markers that had been put up to demarcate the region.

On the same day, police detained 10 Maasai leaders from Loliondo, together with 14 other Maasai people and three other people.

Before being arraigned in court, they were detained for 11 days not allowed to see their relatives or attorneys.

Security personnel used weapons and teargas against demonstrators on 10 June in an incident that resulted in the death of a policeman Garlus Mwita and the disappearance of 84-year-old Maasai community member Orias Oleng'iyo.

At least 32 Maasai people were also injured by gunshots.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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