October 1, 2019 / 9:00 AM / 17 days ago

Court postpones hearing again for Tanzanian journalist jailed since July

DAR ES SALAAM, Oct 1 (Reuters) - A Tanzanian court on Tuesday postponed the hearing for the sixth time of a prominent Tanzanian journalist arrested more than two months ago.

Erick Kabendera, who has written for international publications, was charged in August with leading organised crime, failing to pay taxes and money laundering.

His lawyers reject the charges and say the case is politically motivated. Rights groups have also said the case is politically motivated.

The prosecutor told the court that his investigations were not complete, while Kabendera’s lawyers called for the process to move forward given that their client is being held on charges that are not bailable.

Kabendera told the court that he was receiving medical treatment. Since mid-August, he has had difficulty breathing and complained of numbness in one of his legs, his lawyers have told the court at previous hearings.

The journalist is being held at the Segerea prison, a maximum-security facility, on the outskirts of the capital, Dar es Salaam.

Rights groups say press freedom in Tanzania has drastically deteriorated since the election in 2015 of President John Magufuli.

His administration has suspended some newspapers, arrested opposition leaders and restricted political rallies. The government has rejected the criticism.

The president said on Sept. 22 that people held on charges of tax evasion, money laundering and other financial crimes should be freed if they confessed and returned what they had stolen.

He said it was only a recommendation - and it remains unclear what impact his words might have on the detention of Kabera as well as a number of business executives.

Outside court after the hearing, Jebra Kambole, Kabendera’s lead counsel, told reporters that as a journalist, their client did not have a lot of money.

Kambole said that on behalf of Kabendera and his family he was calling on the president to pardon him “if in his duties as a journalist, somewhere, somehow, did something wrong to the president or the government”.

“We are apologising for that ... we would like (the president) to consider this request,” he said. (Reporting by Nuzulack Dausen Writing by Maggie Fick Editing by Robert Birsel)

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