The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and journalists for press freedom, has welcomed the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) intervention in the case of jailed Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera.
In a statement, the ACHPR said that it had sent a joint letter of appeal to Tanzanian President John Magufuli over the arrest of Kabendera. The letter was signed by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information and the Commissioner Rapporteur on Human Rights situation in the United Republic of Tanzania. The statement said that the ACHPR “will remain actively seized of the matter”, but did not reveal the contents of the letter.
IPI had taken up the issue of Kabendera’s arrest with the ACHPR and urged the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access of Information, Lawrence Mute, to intervene. On July 29, police arrested Kabendera on the pretext of questions about his citizenship and later changed the charges to money laundering. Kabendera is a well-respected journalist who has written for esteemed publications around the world. He has written critically of Magufuli in the past.
“The letter of appeal by the ACHPR to President Magufuli demonstrates the seriousness of the violation of rule of law and human rights by the Tanzanian government. Kabendera’s arrest is intended to silence him and prevent him from criticizing the government in his reports”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said. “Kabendera’s arrest has evoked international condemnation and has damaged Tanzania’s reputation as a democratic nation that promises to uphold democratic values and human rights. Kabendera should be released immediately.”
The initial charge against Kabendera was related to his citizenship, which had already been addressed by the government in 2013. Unable to press ahead with that case on citizenship, the police accused him of sedition but failed to provide evidence. Ultimately, he was charged with money laundering and financial crimes that are non-bailable offences. Prosecutors have provided no evidence to support these charges either.
On August 30, when the case came up for hearing, Kabendera’s attorney informed the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court that his client’s health had deteriorated and needed urgent medical attention. He told the court that he had met Kabendera in prison and found that the journalist was very weak, unable to walk and in bad health. The court, however, did not grant permission for a medical evaluation, instead postponing the hearing.
On September 17 Erick Kabendera was taken to a hospital for medical tests, where doctors took the X-Ray of his spine and conducted a blood test. His case came up for hearing in the court today and has now been posted for October 1 as the prosecution said that the investigations have not been completed.