Nairobi — The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed the release of Tanzanian freelance journalist Erick Kabendera but expressed concern about the hefty fines levied against him.
Today, the Kisutu Resident Magistrates Court in Dar es Salaam accepted a plea bargain and freed Kabendera, who had been held on tax evasion, money laundering, and organized crime charges since July 29, 2019, according to a report by BBC Swahili and local news reports. Under the plea bargain, Kabendera was convicted on the tax evasion and money laundering charges, the organized crime charge was dropped, and he was fined 273 million Tanzanian shillings ($118,000), according to those reports.
"We welcome the end of Erick Kabendera's nearly seven-month imprisonment on charges that were transparent retaliation for his critical journalism," said CPJ sub-Saharan Africa representative Muthoki Mumo. "However, we are deeply concerned that even after months in detention without the prospect of bail, during which he suffered illness and lost his mother, Kabendera's ordeal is not yet over as these cripplingly heavy fines continue to hang over his head."
The court ordered Kabendera to pay a fine of 100 million Tanzanian shillings ($43,000) for the money laundering charge, a fine of 250,000 shillings ($108) for the tax evasion charge, and 173 million shillings ($75,000) in compensation for the tax evasion, according to the BBC and Jebra Kambole, the journalist's lawyer, who spoke to CPJ via messaging application.
The privately owned Mwananchi newspaper reported that Kabendera already paid the money laundering fine, and Kambole told CPJ that the journalist paid the 250,000 shilling tax evasion fine today. The remaining tax evasion compensation is required to be paid over a six-month period, according the BBC and a statement from the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, a local human rights group.