National Press Club

U.S. press leaders decry Tanzania's crackdown on reporters

September 17, 2019 | By John Donnelly | jdonnelly@cq.com

The government of Tanzania must release jailed journalist Erick Kabendera and cease its repression of reporters and other citizens, the National Press Club and its Journalism Institute said Monday.

Kabendera is a freelance investigative journalist who has written for The Guardian, The East African and other publications. He has been imprisoned since July 29 on phony and changing charges, independent experts say. He has no possibility of bail and his lawyers have told reporters they fear he could remain in jail for years before a trial might occur. His health is failing.

Kabendera’s jailing is symptomatic of Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s four-year-old crackdown on free expression. He has closed publications and halted TV broadcasts. Prominent journalists have disappeared or gone to jail. Opposition politicians have vanished or been arrested, and one was recently beaten to death.

“Journalism is not a crime, so Erick Kabendera must be freed,” said Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak, president of the National Press Club. “We call on the court to release him immediately, or at the latest on his next court appearance, which we understand is Sept. 18.”

“The Tanzanian authorities need to respect basic rights, and concerned people around the world will not stop expressing alarm until things improve in that country for journalists and others,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute. ”Erick Kabendera’s imprisonment is unacceptable. At a minimum, he must be afforded due process.”

A joint statement in August by the British and American embassies in Dar es Salaam, the administrative and economic center of Tanzania, expressed deep concern about what they called “the steady erosion of due process in Tanzania as evidenced by the ever more frequent resort to lengthy pre-trial detentions and shifting charges by its justice system.”

The U.S. and U.K. diplomats expressed particular concern about “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.”

Tanzanian authorities have seized the passports of Kabendera's wife and children and have subjected family members to interrogation, Kabendera's lawyers have told reporters.

Security officials first detained Kabendera over his citizenship. Later they accused him of sedition before charging him with tax evasion, money laundering and organized crime.

Kabendera's health has been poor since his detention began.

"My leg is numb, I have been experiencing severe pain in the leg, and chest pains," Kabendera told the court in an appearance earlier this month, according to Reuters.

The National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists and represents some 3,000 reporters, editors and professional communicators worldwide.

The National Press Club Journalism Institute promotes an engaged global citizenry through an independent and free press and equips journalists with skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire civic engagement.