Tanzanian journalist charged with 'organised crime' in court

Tuesday August 6 2019

Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera. He lawyer

Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera. He lawyer said on August 2,2019, that he was charged with sedition. NMG PHOTO 

By AFP

A Tanzanian court on Monday charged detained journalist Erick Kabendera with organised crime and financial offences, a week after his arrest turned a stark spotlight on press freedoms under President John Magufuli.

Kabendera, a reporter for local and international press outlets known for his critical coverage of the government, was denied bail in a Dar es Salaam court after the charges were read out against him.

"He has just been formally charged with economic crimes, namely organised crime to acquire money, tax evasion and money laundering," a member of his defence team, Shilinde Swedy, told AFP.

"These are crimes for which bail is excluded under Tanzanian law. So he remains in detention."

Kabendera was arrested on his doorstep by six men in plain clothes on July 29 and brought in for questioning over what police said were irregularities with his citizenship.

His detention provoked outrage, with rights groups saying police often wield baseless queries about nationality in order to harass critics and browbeat them into silence.

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That line of inquiry was later dropped, and authorities announced Kabendera was facing a much more serious charge of sedition under Tanzania's controversial cybercrime laws.

But prosecutors had seemingly abandoned those charges as well, Swedy said.

"The sedition charges were not brought before the judge," he said.

Kabendera had written about being stalked and harassed in the years since Magufuli's election in 2015, with his mother hauled in for gruelling interrogations as well.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) -- which has labelled Magufuli a "press freedom predator" -- and Amnesty International, among other rights groups, have demanded Kabendera's immediate release.

UK Ambassador to Tanzania Sarah Cook has also expressed her concern about Kabendera's continued detention.

"Journalists must be able to investigate and report as they see fit," she posted on Twitter on Saturday.

Since being elected, Magufuli has shut down newspapers, banned opposition rallies, switched off live broadcasts of parliamentary sessions and used the cybercrimes law to jail critics.

Azory Gwanda, a Tanzanian journalist and government critic who disappeared in 2017, has never been found.

Kabendera's next court hearing is scheduled for August 19.

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