October 1, 2019 / 9:10 AM / 19 days ago

Lawyer for Tanzanian journalist appeals to president for pardon

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - The lawyer for a prominent Tanzanian journalist arrested more than two months ago called on Tuesday on President John Magufuli to pardon him as a court postponed a hearing into his case for a sixth time.

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.

Jebra Kambole, Kabendera’s lead counsel, told reporters 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 him to consider this request,” Kambole said.

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

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 was 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.

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

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

Reporters Without Borders called for Tanzania to end a “growing crackdown on media and journalists”, after the government communications regulator fined three online television channels on Sept. 27 for failing to publish their editorial policy statement in line with a 2018 law.

All three channels have been critical of the president, the media rights group said in a statement on Monday.

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.

Reporting by Nuzulack Dausen; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Robert Birsel

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