Tanzania Drops Murder Charges Against 24 Maasai Land Defenders
State prosecutors in the United Republic of Tanzania dropped murder charges this week against twenty-four Indigenous Maasai, accused of killing a police officer during a state-sponsored eviction campaign to remove Maasai from their land and create a protected game reserve.
The incident, which occurred in June, involved hundreds of security officers attempting to remove Maasai people from their homelands in Loliondo, in Northern Tanzania, and left dozens of Maasai injured or shot. In the aftermath, many Maasai fled across the border to Kenya for medical treatment while others were arrested or confined to their homes. During the conflict, a police officer died after reportedly being stabbed by a spear. In July, the Tanzanian government arrested twenty-five Maasai, charging them with the officer’s murder. One person was later released, but the remaining twenty-four men and women remained in prison until their release Tuesday.
“It is a good day for those who have been in prison for months now and their families, but at the same time it is outrageous that these innocent people have been in prison for this many months,” said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a U.S.-based human rights nonprofit. “It shows just how wrong the actions of the Tanzanian government are to criminalize the land defenders.”
But despite the legal victory, experts say the Maasai still have significant challenges to protecting their land and rights. The Tanzanian government is still pushing to create a protected game reserve in Loliondo, which would take approximately 1,500 square kilometers of the 4,000 square kilometer area currently inhabited by the Maasai. Tanzania plans to let Otterlo Business Company, a United Arab Emirates based company, manage the reserve.