Tanzania drops murder charges against 24 Maasai leaders | Conservation and indigenous people

Prosecutors in Tanzania have dropped murder charges against 24 Maasai pastoralists who were detained over the death of a police officer earlier this year.

The officer died in June during protests against government plans to evict them from their ancestral land in Loliondo, in Ngorongoro District, to make way for a conservation and a luxury hunting reserve.

Last week, charges for trespassing were dropped against 62 Maasai involved in the protests.

The men’s lawyer, Paul Kisabo, said their detention was “politically motivated” and that there was “no legal justification” for it.

“The charges and detainment were a misuse of the public system,” he said, adding that the director of public prosecutions gave no explanation for the decision to drop the charges.

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s regional director for east and southern Africa, said: “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’.”

Reports from the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders coalition said the Maasai leaders were taken into custody under false pretences, interrogated and then detained in an Arusha prison. The rights group said that while in detention, the men were tortured and accused of murder. It also said that the pastoralists were denied food, as well as access to their families and lawyers.

The land in Loliondo has been subject to a long dispute between the Maasai and the Tanzanian government. The government says that it falls within the boundaries of the Serengeti national park, and that the Maasai’s growing population is encroaching on its wildlife habitat. The Maasai dispute both claims.

The June evictions were the latest attempts by the government to relocate the pastoralists from the area. Similar eviction efforts in 2017 were halted by the east African court of justice, pending its judgment on the case.

After a long-running court battle marked by several delays, the regional court ruled in September that the Maasai had failed to prove they were evicted from their ancestral lands and not the Serengeti park, or that they had been violently evicted from the area. The court ruling was called a major blow to Indigenous land rights.

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