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Latest hearing for Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera postponed once again

By Kanika Saigal
Posted on Friday, 30 August 2019 23:00

Tanzanian investigative journalist Erick Kabendera arrives at the Kisutu Residents Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania 19 August 2019. REUTERS/Emmanuel Herman

A hearing for Erick Kabendera in a Dar es Salaam court was postponed once again on 30 August with the state prosecutor citing that more time was needed for their investigation into charges against the Tanzanian journalist.

This is the latest in a number of delays relating to charges held against the internationally acclaimed journalist, known for his personal and professional integrity and ability to hold authority to account through media.

According to Reuters, Kabendera’s lawyer, Jebra Kambole, has now asked prosecutors to expedite the case and transfer it to the country’s High Court for future hearings, where Kabendera will be able to enter a plea.

This is all the more urgent given concerns around Kabendera’s health. The journalist’s legal representatives have asked for him to be taken to Muhimbili Hospital in Dar es Salaam.

“Erick has had trouble breathing and he has had problems moving his legs,” says Kabendera’s sister, Prisca. “He needs medical attention urgently so we can find out exactly what is wrong with him,” she says.

Maximum security

Kabendera was arrested by six people claiming to be plain clothes police officers – in what was initially stated as an enquiry around his citizenship status – on 29 July.

The journalist is currently being held at Segerea Maximum Security Prison on charges of money laundering, tax evasion and assisting an organised crime racket following a hearing on 5 August.

According to the charge sheet of the same day, Kabendera is alleged to have committed these crimes between January 2015 and July 2019.

Under the Tanzania’s Criminal Procedure Act, individuals accused of money laundering in Tanzania do not qualify for bail and can be legally held in pre-trail detention for up to three years.

Kabendera’s supporters, however, argue that this is a tool to keep the journalist behind bars.

“Kabendera is a well-respected journalist whose investigations have shed light on the workings of Tanzania’s government both at home and abroad,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s director for East Africa, in a statement.

“The outrageous fabricated charges against him show the intolerance of the Tanzanian authorities to any criticism. The charges must be dropped, and Kabendera immediately and unconditionally released. He must not be put through one more day of this judicial charade brought against him solely for doing his job.”

As someone close to the Kabendera family says: “Erick is showing unbelievable strength given everything he is going through. We are hopeful that international pressure will force the government to drop these absurd charges for which he is being held.”

The International Federation of Journalists has pressed Tanzanian authorities to drop the “fabricated charges” against Kabendera.

Crackdown

Following the election of President John Magufuli in 2015, there has been a country-wide crackdown on dissent.

A number of members of Tanzania’s main opposition party have gone missing or have been arrested in recent years, while several local newspapers have been shut down and journalists have fled the country.

Last year, Godfrey Luena, of the Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) party was hacked to death at his home in February. Two weeks earlier, Daniel John, also of the Chadema party, was found dead with machete wounds to the head.

In March this year, Freeman Mbowe, Chadema’s chairman, was released on bail after winning an appeal against a contempt of court ruling. He had spent nearly four months in prison.

In November 2017, journalist Azory Gwanda was reported missing. In June this year, Tanzanian authorities announced that he was dead.

In 2016, Tanzania signed the controversial Media Services Act. Under the Act, anyone who writes or prints “seditious” content or information that harms the country’s economy, can face jail for up to five years.

Activists, however, say the act harms press freedom and were vindicated this March when the East African Court of Justice found that multiple sections the act restricted press freedom and freedom of expression, and thereby breach the constitutive treaty of the East African Community, of which Tanzania is a member.

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