Erick Kabendera, a prominent investigative journalist in Tanzania has been arrested by unidentified men claiming to be members of the police force. Kabendera was arrested in his home in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam on Monday, July 29, 2019, by six plainclothes men who said they were taking him to the Oysterbay police station in Dar es Salaam. 

They refused to identify themselves when they were asked to and seized the phones of  Kabendera, his wife, and neighbours who recorded the incident. 

Tanzania’s inspector general of police, Simon Sirro, confirmed Kabendera had been taken to a police station for questioning and that more information about his arrest will be released today. But according to the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), when Kabendera’s colleagues and a lawyer from the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition went to the aforementioned police station to check on the journalist, he was not there.

Also, Lazaro Mambosasa, Dar es Salaam’s chief of police, said that the case had not been reported to them. As Kabendera’s whereabouts remain a mystery, the CPJ has expressed concern about his safety. “The manner in which this journalist was taken, by men claiming to be police, is very ominous and further evidence that the press is not safe in President John Magufuli’s Tanzania,” said Muthoki Mumo, the CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative.

Under President John Magufuli, press freedom in Tanzania has deteriorated. Two years ago, a journalist, Azory Gwanda suddenly disappeared while he was investigating a series of murders of police officers and politicians in the country’s coast region and has since not been found. Like Kabendera, Gwanda’s capture was abrupt. 

In March, the East African Court of Justice found that multiple sections of Tanzania’s 2016 Media Services Act restrict press freedom and freedom of expression in contradiction to certain sections of the East African Treaty, and directed the government of Tanzania to take necessary measures to bring the Act into compliance with the treaty.

While the government is yet to do anything about the EACJ’s directive, its lawmakers went on to propose a number of legislative amendments that will further restrict press freedom and in general, repress human rights. One of the proposed amendment gives the Tanzanian government a monopoly on national data and the exclusive ability to analyse the data. It also criminalizes the publication of information that could “discredit official statistics”. 

Both the CPJ and Amnesty International have asked the country’s lawmakers to reconsider these amendments and make room for inclusive consultations with members of the public, including the press and civil society.

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