Another Tanzanian journalist abducted

Erick Kabendera - COURTESY PHOTO

ERICK Kabendera, a Tanzanian freelance journalist has been apprehended by authorities in a manner that is equated with abduction. He was forcefully taken from his home at Mbweni, in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam on Monday evening when six unidentified people surrounded his home and broke into his house.

One day before this incident, Vodacom – a mobile phone operator – blocked his number. When he enquired, Vodacom personnel told him they had been ordered by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to block it. The intent, according to some sources, was to abduct him in dead silence. Fortunately, he had a UK-registered line which he used to inform friends and colleagues the moment he sensed danger at his home.

Kabendera called several people by his phone, as he locked himself in with his wife and children. As the “officers” forcefully broke into his house, a group of neighbours arrived and wanted an explanation from the unruly officers who later claimed they were policemen. Nevertheless, they did not show any identity.

They took him at 18:01 in a civilian vehicle. At the Mbweni Police post, they abandoned the vehicle and put him in a police car. One of his neighbours called a police acquaintance at the Mbweni post and was told that they would be taking him to Oysterbay Police Station in Kinondoni District. They sped off with him to an unknown destination.

When a group of his friends and neighbours reached Oysterbay Station at 20:02 there was no trace of Kabendera. The Regional Crimes Officer (RCO) told them he had no knowledge of any event or crime in which Kabendera was involved, and that he had no clue about his presumed arrest.

But secret informers had disclosed to SAUTI KUBWA‘s sources that a police officer by the name of DUMA had been tasked with handling Kabendera’s case.

Within minutes of the incidence, news broke on social media and, as local and international pressure increased, police authorities in Kinondoni recanted their previous version, admitting  – at about 22:00 – that they were holding him for interrogation. No one ever set an eye on him, and word went out that he was being tormented in one of their secret torture chambers. In all, their mode of “arresting” him leaves much to be desired.

Erick is a Tanzania-based political analyst specialised in political, integrity and security risks across East and Central Africa. He regularly covers the region’s politics, trade and extractive industries for leading publications, including The Guardian, Economist Intelligence Unit, The Times and the Africa Report. Erick previously worked as a Senior Communication and Strategy Consultant at the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.

The Tanzanian government is unhappy about media reports in western media. The president and his apologists have been blaming The Economist Intelligence Unit for publishing unfriendly news on Tanzania.

Reliable sources told SAUTI KUBWA that the Kabendera incident had bee orchestrated by “powers from above” in the Home Affairs Ministry and that the intention was abduction in order to silence him.  They had hoped that because his phone had been blocked from communicating, it would not have been easy for him to reach out to friends at the time of his forceful arrest.

On November 21, 2017, an almost similar approach was used to arrest Azory Gwanda, a freelance journalist with Mwananchi newspaper, who was taken from his home by unidentified people in the presence of his wife.  He has since been missing. Recently, Tanzania’s foreign minister Prof. Palamagamba Kabudi told BBC Focus on Africa that Gwanda was dead.

Local and international media and human rights activists, as well as foreign diplomatic circles, are keenly following up the Kabendera incident.

Since President John Magufuli came to power in 2015, incidents of people disappearing, dying mysteriously, or being arbitrarily arrested have been on an increase, badly painting the image of the country once associated with peace, security and stability. It is obvious that Tanzania is sinking into an abyss of dictatorship where journalists, critics, opposition members and objective minded people are no longer safe.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) quickly showed much concern and issued a statement calling on Tanzania’s police to free Kabendera.

Police speaking on immigration issues?

On Tuesday, July 30, in the afternoon, Police admitted, at a press conference by Lazaro Mambosasa the Zonal Police Commander (ZPC), that they were holding Kabendera at the Central Police Station for interrogation over his citizenship status. But when Kabendera’s relatives and activists visited the Central Station a few minutes later, police officers confirmed that he was not there. “His name is not in the logbook, and he is not in police cells,” one of his relatives anonymously told SAUTI KUBWA.

The officers were apparently shocked on learning that their boss had told the media of Kabendera’s presence at the station. So, they directed the relatives to Mambosasa’s office.

When the relatives reached his office and asked his secretary to let them see him, the secretary went on to inform him of their arrival; and Mambosasa, in turn, advised them, through the secretary, to ask his assistants.

“His assistants were equally amazed, and one of them had to speak with Mambosasa on the phone, telling him they had not seen Kabendera at the Central Police Station. Then Mambosasa asked them if they had told us of that fact, to which they responded in the affirmative. Then he told them this is an immigration matter, so we should go back tomorrow morning!”

Kabendera’s relatives were seeking to know where he was and what condition he was in, as they wanted him to access food, legal advice and other rights that he has been denied since his arrest on Monday afternoon. But, obviously, the statement by ZPC Mambosasa about Kabendera being held at the Central Police Station had turned out to be a lie.

A secret source told SAUTI KUBWA that Kabendera was undergoing torture at a secret place in Kisarawe in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam where they had taken him.  They are worried about Kabendera being in possession of sensitive information with details on how the president and his nephew had been embezzling EU funds at the finance ministry. The person who had been in charge of the funds, Leopold Lwajabe, was found dead on Saturday, July 27,  in an incident smelling a homicide.

In efforts to find an exit strategy, police said on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, that Kabendera was being questioned about his citizenship and denied bail for unspecified reasons. He was detained at the Immigration Office in Dar es Salaam.

Immigration authorities silently drop charges and release him

In a sudden turn of events, however, these allegations were silently dropped by immigration authorities, and Kabendera was handed to police. Instead of releasing him, Police took him to the Central Police Station on Thursday, August 1, 2019. New charges were framed up. He is now accused of having violated section 16 of the Cybercrime Act, 2015, by writing a number of stories on Tanzania published by The Economist Intelligence Unit a number of times.

Section 16 of the Cybercrime Act 2015 states that: “Any person who publishes information or data presented in a picture, text, symbol or any other form in a computer system knowing that such information or data is false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate, and with intent to defame, threaten, abuse, insult, or otherwise deceive or mislead the public or concealing commission of an offence commits an offence, and shall on conviction be liable to a fine of not less than five million shillings or to imprisonment for a term of not less than three years or to

SAUTI KUBWA is reliably informed that, during their preliminary interrogations of Kabendera, police hinted about framing up treason charges against him. But the laws are obviously not in their favour; hence their choice of sedition charges under section 16 of the Cybercrime Act.

Abducted or arrested?

The way in which Kabendera was taken from his home and kept in secret locations, with police first denying involvement or knowledge of any crime involving Kabendera, before they suddenly admitted holding him for interrogation on citizenship queries, amounts to abduction. They officially arrested him on Thursday when he was released by immigration authorities.

According to the Criminal Procedures Act of 1985, police should show their identity before arresting anyone, telling the person the exact reasons for the arrest; and they should take that person to court within 24 hours. None of these happened in the Kabendera saga.




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