Jailed Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera in failing health: lawyer

Thursday September 12 2019

Jailed Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera. PHOTO | FILE



Lawyers of a detained Tanzanian journalist urged a court Thursday to let their client see a doctor, saying his health had deteriorated behind bars since being arrested in July.

Erick Kabendera's incarceration has drawn international opprobrium and added to rising concerns about press freedom in Tanzania, where President John Magufuli has cracked down on critics since coming to power in 2015.

The charges levelled at Kabendera, a reporter for local and international press outlets known for his coverage of Magufuli's administration, have changed three times since his arrest at his home by plainclothes police.

"Our client is sick, has difficulty walking due to paralysis of his right foot, and has difficulty breathing at night," Kabendera's lawyer Jebra Kambole told a court in Dar es Salaam.

"We therefore ask the Court to order the prison services to allow him to be examined in any public hospital so that we know what he is suffering from."


Prosecutor Simon Wankyo told the court that Kabendera was receiving medical care in prison.

Kabendera was initially detained for questioning over his citizenship, then faced sedition allegations before both lines of inquiry were dropped and he was charged with tax evasion, money laundering and organised crime.

The United States and Britain have voiced concern at the "steady erosion of due process" in Tanzania, citing Kabendera's plight as a case in point.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) -- which has labelled Magufuli a "press freedom predator" -- and Amnesty International, among other rights groups, have demanded Kabendera's immediate release.

Late Wednesday, RSF in a statement mentioned that Kabendera's relatives had expressed grave concerns about his health.

"Everything points to a procedure that amounts to intimidation, silencing an investigative journalist critical of the Tanzanian regime," said Arnaud Froger, head of RSF's Africa office.

Kabendera had written about being stalked and harassed in the years since Magufuli's election.

Magufuli, nicknamed "The Bulldozer", has shut down newspapers, banned opposition rallies, switched off live broadcasts of parliamentary sessions and used the cybercrimes law to jail critics.

Azory Gwanda, a Tanzanian journalist and government critic who disappeared in 2017, has never been found.