Africa

Tanzania journalist Erick Kabendera to spend Christmas in jail

Erick Kabendera in court Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Erick Kabendera was pictured in November at one of his 10 court appearances

Any hopes that Tanzanian investigative journalist Erick Kabendera would be out of prison by Christmas have been dashed as his case has been postponed for a 10th time.

Mr Kabdendera, detained since July, has been charged with money laundering, tax evasion and leading organised crime.

These are not bailable offences.

Amnesty International described his arrest as "an assault on press freedom" and diplomats expressed concern over the initial handling of the case.

The journalist, who has a reputation for holding the authorities to account in his articles, has written for several British publications including The Independent, The Guardian and The Times, as well as for newspapers in Tanzania and the wider region.

There has been growing criticism over the attitude of the government of President John Magufuli towards independent journalists.

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Mr Kabendera could have been freed if the case had been dismissed at any of the 10 hearings. Furthermore, attempts by his lawyer, Jebra Kambole, to propose a plea bargain to ensure his release have not been successful.

Instead, the prosecution has asked the judge for more time. The next hearing is scheduled for 2 January.

Financial crimes cases are notorious in Tanzania for tying up defendants in legal proceedings that can go on for years.

"We are asking the court that the prosecution speed up the investigation as the case has been postponed many times," Mr Kambole is quoted in local media as saying after the latest delay.

'Erosion of due process'

Mr Kabendera was initially arrested over a question about his citizenship, police said at the time.

That investigation was dropped and the financial crimes charges were brought in.

Shortly after Mr Kabendera's arrest, the US and UK embassies in Tanzania said they were "concerned about 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".

Image caption Erick Kabendera's mother, Verdiana Mjwahuzi, pleaded with the president to let her son go free

Amnesty International's East Africa director, Joan Nyanyuki, called his detention "an assault on press freedom and further underlines the rising repression of journalists and perceived government critics in Tanzania, where people have been killed, physically assaulted, threatened, harassed or abducted for expressing their views".

The government has said that freedom of the press is guaranteed in the constitution and there is a large and diverse media presence in the country.

Limping in court

There has been concern about Mr Kabendera's health while in custody.

Video of a court appearance in September showed him limping, with him unable to bend his right leg.

But he has refused to be taken to hospital as was going to be handcuffed and accompanied by a large security team.

Last week, Mr Kabendera's mother, Verdiana Mjwahuzi, was shown in tears talking to journalists and pleading with President Magufuli to forgive her son and allow him to go free.

She said that she depended on him to pay her medical bills.

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