Tanzanian President John Magufuli ordered prison authorities Thursday to reduce crowding in the country’s jails, saying there were too many people awaiting trial indefinitely who should not be incarcerated.
Magufuli, who came to power in 2015 as a corruption-fighting “man of the people” but has been criticised for his authoritarian leadership style, gave the order after touring an overcrowded prison this week.
The experience at Butimba jail in Mwanza region left him “saddened” and demanding answers, he told a rally in the administrative capital Dodoma.
“This prison, which has a capacity of 900 people, houses 1,000 convicts, and 925 awaiting trial,” he said, adding many had been languishing there eight years, their investigations going nowhere.
“I have ordered the Ministry of Justice and other relevant bodies to visit all prisons, province by province, to listen to the complaints of prisoners and release those who are being held illegally.
“You elected me to serve everyone. I cannot lead a country in tears.”
Since he visited the prison in Mwanza, some 300 prisoners have been released.
Magufuli’s talent for high-profile appearances that bolster his reputation as a no-nonsense leader have made him wildly popular among some.
But his intolerance of criticism, impulsiveness and disregard for due process worry others who see authoritarianism at the core of his populism.
Nicknamed “tingatinga”—meaning “bulldozer” in Swahili—Magufuli has cowed the press and many of his political opponents are routinely arrested.
Some opposition activists have been kidnapped and beaten.
Since his election, Tanzania has slid 43 places on Reporters Without Borders free press index from 75 to 118.