The bishops of Tanzania spoke out this week against the suppression of several constitutional freedoms within the country, saying the government is becoming responsible for threatening national unity.

“The activities of political parties, such as public gatherings, demonstrations, marches, debates inside premises, which are the right of every citizen, are suspended until the next elections,” read a Feb. 11 pastoral letter signed by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Tanzania, according to Africa News.

“Political activities are prohibited by the instrumentalization of the police,” the letter continued, denouncing the government’s interference with national laws and the freedom of expression.

Political tensions within Tanzania have been rising with upcoming by-elections.

President John Magufuli, of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, has been in power since taking office in 2015. The CCM has held power in Tanzania since the party was founded in 1977.

Magufuli is nicknamed the “bulldozer”, and holds a reputation for enforcing censorship and limiting freedoms of expression.

Since President Magufuli’s election, opposition parties have been targeted through suppression - their party meetings have been prohibited, media has been silenced, and some reports have said that journalists critical of the government were found beaten.  

In December, government authorities threatened to revoke the licenses of churches which openly discussed political issues, after a Protestant pastor said in a sermon that Tanzania was “turning into a one-party state.”

Last fall, the opposition chief in parliament, Tundu Lissu of the Chadema party, was hospitalized after an alleged assassination attempt. He is currently hospitalized in Brussels. Although no suspect has been arrested, Lissu’s party is pointing to the government for possible involvement in the attack.

The bishops said the current political standing is creating “division and hatred that could endanger peace, security and the lives of citizens,” and encouraged the government to give up suppressive tactics.

“Media are closed or temporarily suspended, thus restricting the right of citizens, to be informed, freedom of opinion and the right to privacy and expression,” the bishops said.

“If we allow this climate to continue, let us not be surprised to find ourselves in more serious conflicts that will destroy the foundations of peace and national unity.”

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