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UPDATE: Tanzania Charges Journalist With Economic Crimes

Tanzanian investigative journalist Erick Kabendera sits inside the Kisutu Residents Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Aug. 5, 2019.

UPDATE August 9: The US and British governments are raising concerns about the "steady erosion of due process" in Tanzania following the arrest and indictment of investigative journalist Erick Kabendera.

This week the Tanzanian government charged Kabendera with two new allegations: organized crime and financial offenses. He was previously charged with other economic crimes.

The British and US governments issued a joint statement that read in part "We are particularly concerned about a recent case -- the irregular handling of the arrest, detention, and indictment of investigative journalist Erick Kabendera, including the fact that he was denied access to a lawyer in the early stages of his detention, contrary to the Criminal Procedures Act."

Kabendera was initially arrested by police over concerns about his citizenship, but those charges were dropped.

VOA English to Africa Service's Paul Alexander and Peter Clottey contributed to this report.

August 5: Tanzania's government on Monday charged investigative journalist Erick Kabendera with money laundering, tax evasion and assisting a criminal racket.

Kabendera, who was charged in magistrate court in the former capital, Dar es Salaam, had been taken into custody from his home July 29 over what police initially said were problems with his citizenship status.

Kabendera allegedly committed the crimes — including failing to pay $75,000 in taxes — from early 2015 into last month. Bail is not allowed for such offenses, so he remains in detention. His case was referred to the division of corruption and economic of Tanzania’s high court, according to The Guardian, one of the news outlets to which Kabendera has contributed. His next court date is set for Aug. 19.

The freelance journalist has been critical of President John Magufuli's administration and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party in stories for The Guardian, The East African, and The Times of London.

FILE - Tanzania's President John Magufuli addresses a news conference during his official visit to Nairobi, Kenya, Oct. 31, 2016.
FILE - Tanzania's President John Magufuli addresses a news conference during his official visit to Nairobi, Kenya, Oct. 31, 2016.

Opposition and civil rights groups say Kabendera's case is a government effort to silence dissent — a notion disputed by the administration of Magufuli, who was elected in 2015.

"Prosecutors should immediately drop the charges against Kabendera, and Tanzania should end its practice of retaliating against critical voices," Muthoki Mumo, sub-Saharan African representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a release from the New York-based group.

Onesmo Olengurumwa, national coordinator for the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, told VOA in a phone interview that the group would continue to defend journalists in Tanzania.

"Our role is to always campaign for justice and then also use courts of law to seek that," he said.

The watchdog group Reporters Without Borders ranks Tanzania 118th among 180 countries in its current World Press Freedom Index. It notes the country has fallen "47 places since 2016, more than any other country in the world during the same period."