Six Tanzanian opposition leaders charged with sedition

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania has charged six opposition leaders with sedition and incitement to violence, a move branded by critics of the government as an effort to silence dissent. Freeman Mbowe, chairman of the main opposition CHADEMA party, was charged with five other senior party leaders at a court in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, court documents showed.

The opposition leaders, four of whom are members of parliament, were detained at a remand prison until a court rules on their bail applications on Thursday.They were also charged with taking part in an illegal demonstration in Dar es Salaam in February that led to the death of a student, who was allegedly killed by a stray bullet while police engaged in a street battle with rioters.

The others arraigned in court were CHADEMA secretary general Vincent Mashinji, deputy secretary general John Mnyika, deputy secretary general Salum Mwalim, Peter Msigwa and Esther Matiko.

Other opposition parties said the arraignment was part of an ongoing crackdown on democracy by President John Magufuli's government."It is a new normal, a fearful nation," tweeted Zitto Kabwe, leader of the opposition ACT Wazalendo party.

The opposition says tolerance for dissent has diminished rapidly since Magufuli took office in late 2015 with pledges to reform the East African nation and curb corruption.  Two opposition leaders, including a lawmaker, were sentenced to five months in prison last month for insulting Magufuli. The United States, European Union and several Western embassies last month voiced concern over politics-related violence and allegations of human rights abuses.

Magufuli's government denies cracking down on the opposition and stifling freedom of expression.

(Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Kevin Liffey)