August 12, 2019
President John Magufuli
1 Barack Obama Drive
11400, Kivukoni, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Sent via email
Dear President Magufuli,
I write to you from the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization that advocates for press freedom worldwide, to urge your government to drop charges against freelance journalist Erick Kabendera and provide a public accounting of the fate of missing journalist Azory Gwanda.
Just last month at the Defend Media Freedom Conference in London, Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi affirmed that your government wants to “facilitate investigative journalism” and “ensure that journalists are protected against any actions, persecution or impunity.” Allowing Kabendera to return to his work, and taking Gwanda’s disappearance seriously, would be important step toward fulfilling these pledges.
Kabendera was taken forcefully from his home on July 29, 2019, and denied access to a lawyer for more than 24 hours. Police initially claimed they were investigating Kabendera’s citizenship. However, days after his arrest prosecutors switched tracks and charged him with economic crimes, for which he cannot qualify for bail. He was moved between police stations several times during his interrogation. The manner of his arrest and detention suggests retaliation that seeks to silence his critical reporting, including on divisions within the ruling party.
Gwanda also worked as a freelance journalist, based in the Coast Region. He went missing on November 21, 2017, in the company of unidentified men believed to be security personnel. Prior to that, Gwanda chronicled mysterious killings and abductions, including of ruling party officials and police officers. Despite calls for an investigation from his family, Tanzanian media and civil society, and United Nations experts, there has been no credible accounting for his fate. Instead, officials have sent mixed signals about their knowledge of his whereabouts while stonewalling about progress in the investigation.
In a July interview, Foreign Minister Kabudi claimed that Gwanda was one of many people who had “disappeared and died” in the Rufiji region. Although Kabudi later said his comments were taken out of context and he did not know Gwanda’s fate, his comments are deeply troubling and underscore the urgent need to investigate what has happened to this journalist.
These cases strike fear in the local media community and have the potential to exacerbate a culture of self-censorship, as journalists retreat from critical reporting for fear of facing a similar fate. They are also emblematic of the rapid deterioration of press freedom in Tanzania, which has included the suspension of media outlets on specious allegations, restrictive regulation, and legal harassment of journalists, as CPJ has documented.
The public commitments that Tanzania has made to press freedom will remain empty words without urgent action. The goals your government has set for itself, including rooting out corruption, cannot be fulfilled without a press that is able to operate independently, safely, and without fear of retaliation. We therefore urge your government to immediately free Kabendera and drop all charges against him, and ensure that Gwanda’s case is investigated thoroughly and the findings made public.
We would welcome an opportunity to meet representatives of your government to discuss these concerns.
CC: Foreign Minister Prof Palamagamba Kabudi
Information Minister Dr Harrison Mwakyembe
Chief Secretary in the Presidency Ambassador John William Kijazi
United Nations Permanent Representative Ambassador Modest Mero