Erick Kabendera, an investigative journalist who has repeatedly covered issues of corruption within the Tanzanian government, was released from prison after seven months in detention following a guilty plea to widely discredited charges of tax evasion. Media advocates and watchdog groups allege Kabendera’s arrest was politically motivated, part of President John Magufuli’s efforts to quell media dissent ahead of the country’s elections.
Why It Matters
Kabendera’s arrest is a continuation of a pattern of intimidation by President Magufuli and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, which has maintained an outright majority in Tanzanian politics since multiparty elections were first introduced in 1992, winning every five-year election since 1995. As of late, the Magufuli administration has taken a harsher stance against political opposition, shutting down newspapers critical of his administration, barring rallies, arresting opposition leaders, and fining other media outlets. Democracy advocates fear that the continued repression could ignite mass unrest come election season in October, which could extend outward to the rest of southern Africa, particularly in northern Mozambique, which has been violence due to a breakaway armed opposition group and a newly formed jihadist terrorist outfit.
The official charges against Kabendera continually changed throughout his imprisonment. First they were over whether Kabendera was a Tanzanian citizen, then to allegations of seditious cybercrimes, before landing on claims he used two private companies to commit tax evasion. Kabendera’s declining health is likely why his attorneys chose to take the deal, agreeing to plead guilty to the tax evasion charge. He has to pay fines of up to US$95,000.