The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today vehemently condemned the arrest of noted journalist Erick Kabendera in Tanzania and demanded his immediate release.
Erick Kabendera, a freelance journalist who has written for several publications around the world, was arrested by plainclothes policemen from his home in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city. His wife told the local daily The Citizen that six people claiming to be police officers had entered their home on the evening of July 29 demanding to be allowed to conduct a search before leaving and taking her husband with them. This morning, Tanzanian police confirmed that Kabendera was being detained and questioned over his citizenship.
“The detention of Erick Kabendera is unacceptable and reprehensible. It is an attempt to silence a journalist who is critical of Tanzania’s president”, IPI Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said, referring to Kabendera’s critical coverage of Tanzania President John Magufuli. “The question of his citizenship was investigated and resolved in 2013. Therefore, his current detention is clearly aimed to threatening and intimidating him.”
Kabendera, who received a David Astor Award in 2009, was arrested and his parents questioned over their citizenship in 2013. Later, the Ministry of Home Affairs said that the citizenship of Kabendera and his parents was “not questionable”. The ministry had also directed the department of immigration to take action against those officials who were responsible for ill-treating the journalist and his parents.
Press freedom in Tanzania under the present government has suffered a huge backslide. Several newspapers, radio and television stations, and news websites have faced bans ranging from a few weeks to several years under disproportionate laws. Earlier this year, the East African Court of Justice that some of the provisions of the Media Services Act, the primary regulation used to suspend media organizations, violated fundamental rights.
During an IPI mission to Tanzania in April, the government committed to working with the journalist community to revise the Act. However, retaliatory measures like the arrest of Kabendera cast doubt on the government’s sincerity to amend relevant legislation and uphold press freedom.