The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Tanzanian police to disclose the whereabouts of investigative journalist Erick Kabendera, who was on Monday evening whisked away by six unknown people claiming to be police officers.
The six men, who were not in uniform and refused to identify themselves, also confiscated the phone belonging to Kabendera, his wife and neighbours who had recorded or taken pictures of the incident at the journalist’s home in the capital Dar es salaam.
“The manner in which this journalist was taken, by men claiming to be police, is very ominous and further evidence that the press is not safe in President John Magufuli's Tanzania,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities must immediately disclose if they are holding Erick Kabendera, and for what reason, and ensure the journalist is returned safely to his family.”
In a statement on its website on Monday, CPJ said it is concerned about Kabendera’s safety, especially after reports suggested he was not at Oysterbay Police Station where the unknown people claimed they were taking him to.
When colleagues and a lawyer from the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition went to the police station to check on the journalist, Kabendera was not there, CPJ said, quoting Watetezi TV, a news outlet associated with the coalition. Watetezi TV reported that police at the station referred the lawyer to the Central Police in Dar es Salaam.
The hashtag #FreeErickKabendera is trending on Twitter in Tanzania.
Earlier, Dar es Salaam's police chief Lazaro Mambosasa told The Citizen that the case had not been reported to them.
In 2017, freelance journalist Azory Gwanda disappeared and has not been heard from since. In early July 2019, Tanzania's Foreign Minister Paramagamba Kabudi appeared to say that the journalist may have died.
During an interview with BBC Focus on Africa, Mr Kabudi was asked if the state had done enough to find out what happened to Gwanda. Part of Mr Kabudi's reply was: "The state is dealing with all those who have unfortunately died and disappeared in Rufiji... it was very painful for someone who was doing his job to pass on".
Mr Gwanda was last seen being whisked away by four men.