The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Tanzania is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:

The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Tanzania is not a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.

At regional level, Tanzania is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:

Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others. 

Tanzania is a party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, but has not allowed the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.

The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Constitutional Provisions

Under Article 20(1) of the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, every person has a freedom to freely and peaceably assemble.

National Legislation

According to CIVICUS:

A notification must be provided to the police 48 hours before holding a demonstration. The police can deny an assembly if it considers the assembly is likely to "cause a breach of the peace, prejudice the public safety or public order, be used for any unlawful purpose, or for failure to notify in the required time period." The Police Force and Auxiliary Service Act 2002 also establish that an assembly of three or more people, who do not obey orders to disperse when requested, would be classified as an “unlawful assembly”. In practice, sometimes security forces used excessive force to disperse peaceful protestors and even arrest protest organisers. 

The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies

The Use of Force

International Legal Rules

Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:

In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.

All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.

National Legislation

Under the 1985 Criminal Procedure Act, a police officer

shall not, in the course of arresting a person, use more force, or subject the person to greater indignity, than is necessary to make the arrest or to prevent the escape of the making arrest person after he has been arrested.

The Use of Firearms

International Legal Rules

According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life. 

National Legislation

The 2002 Police Force and Auxiliary Act determines that a police officer may use arms against any person who

(i) by force, rescues or attempts to rescue any other person from lawful custody; or
(ii) by force, prevents attempts to prevent the lawful arrest of any other person,
where such police officer has reasonable ground to believe that he or any other person is in danger of grievous bodily harm and that he cannot otherwise effect such arrest or prevent such rescue.Art. 29, 2002 Police Force and Auxiliary Act.

State Compliance with its Legal Obligations

Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies

Tanzania has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years.

Regional Jurisprudence

Tanzania last submitted a national report in 2008, which did not address the right of peaceful assembly. In its 2008 Concluding Observations on Tanzania, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights also did not address the right of peaceful assembly.

Views of Civil Society

According to Freedom House's 2021 report on Tanzania:

The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but the government limits this right through legal mechanisms, restrictions on social media platforms used to organize, and outright violence. Organizers must notify the police 48 hours in advance of any demonstration, and police have broad discretion to prohibit gatherings that could threaten public safety or public order, among other criteria. A ban on political rallies has been in place since mid-2016. The January 2019 amendments to the Political Parties Act further restricted public assembly, in part by broadening the scope of activities that are deemed “political.”

Freedom of assembly came under attack in 2020 through a combination of increased violence against demonstrators and limits on communications. During the final week of election campaigns, the main telecommunications providers banned bulk short-message service (SMS) messages, a key tool opposition parties use to organize events and promote turnout. They also blocked any text messages that contained key words associated with the opposition, including the name of presidential candidate, Tundu Lissu. The day before polling opened on the mainland, Twitter and WhatsApp were blocked, further undermining opposition supporters’ ability to organize gatherings and coordinate preelection campaigning. At year’s end, Twitter was still blocked in Tanzania, and the government has been working to block common virtual private networks (VPNs) used to access it.

Gatherings of opposition supporters at rallies or other election meetings were frequently broken up by force including use of tear gas and live ammunition, with deaths reported in both Zanzibar and on the mainland. In November 2020, the opposition called for national protests after the 2020 election, which they rejected as fraudulent. The organizers of these protests, Freeman Mbowe and Godbless Lema, were arrested and the protests were called off.


1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania - Download (351 KB)
2002 Police Force and Auxiliary Act - Download (486 KB)