Monday, May 23, 2011

Tanzanian Army Officer Sentenced to Jail for Requesting Voluntary Release from Army

Abdon Rwegasira, a lieutenant in the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force, TPDF, was sentenced to jail for trying to voluntarily separate from the army. Moving towards a path of service from childhood, Rwegasira was able to obtain a commission as an army officer after school, and eventually earned a Master’s of Law degree while a member of the TPDF. But seeing that his situation would be better outside of the army, he applied for a voluntary release, which, under Tanzanian law, must be approved by the Chief of Defence Forces. Such releases need not be granted, and his superiors denied every request he made. He attempted to obtain a redress through the legal system, but the army arrested, convicted, and sentenced him to a year in jail at a general court-martial before he could get to court.

The GCM cited that his retention protected the “good order and conduct of the Defence Forces” by not setting a precedent that anyone could apply for release from service. Otherwise, the GCM did not state any reasons for his conviction and sentence. Conditions in the jail were equally frustrating, where Rwegasira alleges prison officials actively supported corruption and overlooked prisoner abuse. Now free, his legal team has sought to overturn his conviction, and the Court-Martial Appeal Court did so, citing that the GCM effectively blocked Rwegasira’s access to the court system, access which is protected under Tanzanian law. However, the TPDF is contesting this purportedly final conclusion, and Rwegasira’s case is now pending in the Tanzanian Court of Appeals.

(Credit: Richard Weiland)