DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Lawyers representing a prominent Tanzanian journalist demanded on Wednesday that authorities who have charged him with financial crimes conclude their investigations and release him if they lack evidence.
A Tanzanian court postponed the hearing against Erick Kabendera for the fifth time since his arrest in July in a case that right groups and his lawyers say is politically motivated.
Kabendera, who has written for British newspapers, including The Times of London and The Guardian, has been charged with leading organised crime, failing to pay taxes and money laundering.
He has been in jail since his arrest on July 29 as money laundering charges are not a bailable offences in Tanzania.
“It has been two months now since our client was arrested and he hasn’t been allowed to enter a plea because police have not concluded their investigations,” Jebra Kambole, Kabendera’s lead counsel, told Reuters.
“We can’t even know if he has a case to answer or not.”
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.
Authorities said on Wednesday at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam that they needed more time to complete their investigations. The judge postponed the case until Oct. 1.
Kabendera told the court at his appearance on Sept 12 that his health had been deteriorating.
He was limping in court on Wednesday, a video clip posted on the Twitter feed of the online news platform Watetezi TV showed, and said he had been examined by doctors at a local hospital in Dar es Salaam.
“They did x-rays and early test results showed that I have back problems,” he was quoted as saying and added results from additional tests may be ready by the end of the week.
Medical personnel had also told him he has a dislocated disc on his back, Kambole said.
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.
Reporting by Fumbuka Ng’wanakilala; writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by David Gregorio