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US, Britain Voice Concern in Case of Imprisoned Tanzanian Journalist

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

Britain and the United States are asking Tanzania to uphold the rights of all its citizens after a journalist was arrested on charges his lawyer and rights groups say are politically motivated. Concerns were raised about the case of freelance reporter and government critic Erick Kabendera, who is being held on charges of financial and other crimes.

In a joint statement Friday, the United States and Britain cited what they called the irregular handling of the arrest, detention, and indictment of Kabendera. The statement said he was denied access to a lawyer in the early stages of his detention, contrary to Tanzanian law.

In reaction to the case, both countries urged Tanzanian government officials to guarantee due process to all its citizens and raised concerns about what they termed the steady erosion of due process in Tanzania's justice system.

Charges are changed

Kabendera was arrested at his home amid questions about his citizenship. His mother, Verdiana Mujwahuzi, told reporters her son was born in Tanzania. Later, the charges were changed and he was accused of tax evasion, money laundering and organized crime.

Media rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, also spoke out against Kabendera's arrest by men dressed in civilian clothing. The 39-year-old journalist was arrested at the end of July and is in prison pending a hearing Aug. 19.

Kabendera's work has been published in international and national newspapers. He regularly covers Africa's politics, trade and extractive industries for leading publications, including The Guardian and The Times, both based in Britain. Additionally, he has written for regional newspaper The East African, which is published in Kenya, as well as Paris-based magazine The Africa Report.

Kabendera's lawyer, Jebra Kambole, said his client faces sedition charges in connection with an article in The Economist, in which Kabendera said President John Magufuli, is "bulldozing" Tanzania's freedom.

Kambole said they are trying to see how they are going to insist on the government, because they wanted to know how they are questioning him and how they are determining someone's charges.

Search for charges

Kambole said when someone is arrested and then they start searching what charges to give, before knowing what charges led to his arrest is not a good thing. He said it destroys the country's image.

The government has shut down newspapers, banned opposition rallies and jailed critics but rejects charges its policies are authoritarian.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Tanzania 118th out of 180 countries in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index. That marks a drop of 47 places in the past three years.