August 30, 2019 / 11:14 AM / 22 days ago

Tanzanian lawyers urge speedy trial, medical help for prominent jailed journalist

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Lawyers for a prominent Tanzanian investigative journalist called on Friday for urgent medical attention for their client after a court adjourned his case for the third time since he was arraigned nearly a month ago.

FILE PHOTO: Tanzanian investigative journalist Erick Kabendera arrives at the Kisutu Residents Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Emmanuel Herman

Erick Kabendera, who has written for national and international publications, including Britain’s The Guardian and The Times of London, was arrested at his home in Dar es Salaam on July 29.

Police said he was detained over issues concerning his citizenship, but on Aug. 5 he was charged with leading organized crime, failing to pay taxes and money laundering.

Kabendera’s lawyer and rights group say the charges against him are politically motivated.

A frail-looking Kabendera appeared at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam on Friday, where his case was adjourned to Sept. 12, reportedly because the prosecutors’ investigations are incomplete.

“We have asked the court to instruct prisons authorities to take Kabendera to a government hospital for urgent medical attention,” Kabendera’s lawyer Jebra Kambole told Reuters after the hearing.

“His health has been deteriorating since August 21,” he said. “He has difficulty breathing and has been complaining about numbness in one of his legs.”

The journalist is being held at the Segerea prison, a maximum security facility, on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. Most of Tanzania’s prisons are overcrowded, resulting in poor conditions for inmates, rights groups say.

The journalist’s lawyers urged prosecutors to expedite the case and transfer it to the country’s High Court for subsequent hearings, where the journalist will be allowed to enter a plea.

Rights groups say press freedom in Tanzania has drastically deteriorated since the election in 2015 of President John Magufuli, whose administration has suspended some newspapers, arrested opposition leaders and restricted political rallies. The government has rejected the criticism.

There have been growing calls for the government to review laws that deny bail to criminal suspects for some offences.

“Money laundering charges have effectively become a political weapon ... because it is not a bailable offense, it is now being widely used for retaliation to punish certain people by putting them in detention for several months or even years,” Nyaronyo Kicheere, a Dar es Salaam-based lawyer, told Reuters.

Tanzanian Chief Justice Ibrahim Juma last month called for legal reform to make all criminal offences bailable in the East African nation.

Britain and the United States urged Tanzania earlier this month to guarantee due process of law in Kabendera’s case.

On Thursday the International Federation of Journalists, a global union, urged Tanzanian authorities to drop what they called “fabricated charges”.

Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala; Editing by Maggie Fick and Hugh Lawson

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