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Tanzania charges journalist Erick Kabendera with money laundering, tax evasion

AN investigative journalist in Tanzania, Erick Kabendera, has been charged with financial crimes a week after he was arrested by the country’s police.

Erick was charged with money laundering, tax evasion and leading organised crime, Reuters stated the charge sheet.

The journalist, who has written for national and international publications, including The U.K Guardian, The Economist and The Times of London, was arrested at his home in Dar es Salaam of Tanzania last Monday by six ununiformed officers who were forced to identify themselves after the journalist made a distress call to neighbours.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) through its Africa representative Muthoki Mumo described the manner of Erick’s arrest as being “ominous”.  CPJ raised concern to the press freedom under the ruling president John Magufuli.

The reason for his arrest at that time was over issues concerning his citizenship.

But in court on Monday afternoon, the journalist was charged with three-count charges bordering on economic crimes.

In the charge sheet, Erick was alleged in “knowingly furnished assistance in the conduct of affairs of a criminal racket, with intent either to reap profit or other benefits” between January 2015 and June 2019.

During the same period, he was accused of failing to pay taxes to an income of $75,000 while also engaging in money laundering of $75,000.

The court did not ask the journalist to enter a plea as it noted the charges were too serious for him to be granted bail. Until the case would be heard, Erick would remain in custody.

Jebra Kambole, his lawyer had expressed on Friday that Erick was being prosecuted following an article published on The Economist about the Tanzania president entitled “John Magufuli is bulldozing Tanzania’s freedom.”

The article now links to an Economist piece published last Thursday with a headline “Another critic of President John Magufuli is silenced”.

“Erick has been denied police bail despite the fact that bail is a constitutional right in Tanzania,” said Kambole.

“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,” she said.

The case has been adjourned until August 19 when it will come up for mention.

According to the press freedom index of 2019, Tanzania was ranked the 118 of 180 countries. The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that published the index noted that Tanzania has suffered an “unprecedented decline in press freedom”.

The causes of the decline were stated to be “the adoption of draconian legislation, the closure of media outlets and the expulsion of press freedom defenders” in the country.

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