Tanzanian Journalist Charged with Economic Crimes

Published: 06 August 2019

Investigative journalist Erick Kabendera has been charged with multiple crimes (Photo: Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition FB)

Erick Kabendera has been charged with multiple crimes (Photo: Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition FB)

By Imelda Cengic

A week after he was detained, Tanzanian investigative journalist Erick Kabendera appeared in a Dar es Salaam court on Monday and was charged with organized crime, tax evasion and money laundering, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

A copy of the court document signed by the principal state attorney said that since January 2015 Kabendera failed to pay Tsh173.2 million (US$75,000) in taxes and that he laundered the same amount. 

Kabendera, who has worked for local and international media, was abducted last Monday from his home by six people who emerged from a silver van and wore no uniforms, activists said.

A day later, police said they detained him and were checking his citizenship. On Friday, authorities announced they were charging him with sedition under cybercrime laws but changed the accusation on Monday into organized crime, tax evasion and money laundering. 

According to The Guardian - an outlet that published Kabendera’s articles - the procedure violated Tanzania’s constitution which says that a person has to be charged in court after being detained for 24 hours, or the police must get leave from a magistrate to keep him for longer.

Press freedom campaigners said the charges were retaliatory and should be dropped.

’’The continued detention of this freelance journalist is an attempt to muzzle a critical voice and his case also has the potential to intimidate others in Tanzania’s media community into silence,” said Muthoki Mumo of the Committee to Protect Journalists.“

“We know you didn’t organize those crimes. We know you don’t evade taxes,” opposition politician Zitto Kabwe wrote on social media. ‘’It's your journalism, your stance, your professionalism. We, your friends, will fight for your rights and we will win. You will be free.”

Kabendera has been critical of President John Magufuli’s administration and the ruling party in articles published in various local and international newspapers. 

Press freedom in Tanzania has drastically deteriorated since Magufuli took power in 2015. His government adopted draconian legislation, closed media outlets and expelled press freedom defenders, according to Reporters Without Borders

After the hearing, Kabendera was taken to the city’s Segerea maximum security prison where he will stay until the next court hearing, scheduled for August 19.