Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Tanzania's persecution of Erick Kabendera, a reporter who has been held arbitrarily for more than three months, although in poor health, and who is due to appear in court again tomorrow in a repeatedly adjourned trial. He must be freed and must be given immediate access to the medical care he needs, RSF said.
Kabendera's appearance tomorrow before the Kiutsu Resident Magistrate's Court in Dar es Salaam will be his eighth since the trial began on 19 August. A leading freelance investigative reporter for respected media outlets such as The Guardian and The East African, he was arrested on 29 July by six men in plainclothes. After initial questioning about how he had obtained his Tanzanian citizenship, he was charged with sedition. But he is now accused of money laundering, tax evasion and assisting a criminal racket, although the prosecution's ground for requesting repeated postponements is that these charges need further investigation.
Kabendera is well known for his coverage of Tanzania's politics and economy and, nine days before his arrest, he co-authored a story about tension within Tanzania's ruling party and an alleged plot to prevent President John Magufuli from running for a second term. He was limping during previous court appearances and is reportedly suffering from respiratory problems as well as showing signs of paralysis in his legs. His lawyer told RSF he is trying to get the authorities to allow his client to receive the medical treatment he needs. Asked what he expected from tomorrow's hearing, he replied: "Not much."
"Hearings keep on being held without addressing the substance of the case because of lack of evidence, and this journalist has yet to receive appropriate medical attention, said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. This persecution must stop. In view of the trumped-up nature of the charges and his state of health, his continuing detention cannot be justified. He must be freed at once."
Press freedom has deteriorated significantly in Tanzania since Magufuli became president in 2015. Harassment and intimidation of media personnel has increased, journalists have often been arrested, newspapers have been closed and laws have been passed restricting freedom of expression and information.
Meanwhile, 21 November will be the third anniversary of the disappearance of Azory Gwanda , a reporter who went missing while investigating the unexplained killings of local officials in a coastal region south of Dar es Salaam. In June of this year, the foreign minister referred to him as having "died" without offering any explanation, but he later retracted. The authorities have never provided any significant information about his disappearance, which does not seem to have been properly investigated.
Tanzania is ranked 118th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index after falling 47 places since 2016.