African media organisations have slammed the brutal attack on Absalom Kibanda, chairperson of Tanzania Editors Forum, at his home in Dares Salaam. Kibanda is receiving treatment at Milpark hospital in Johannesburg after he was assaulted by three men outside his home The attackers assailants beat him, cut off one of his fingers and punctured his eye.
“According to his colleagues, Kibanda is among the tough and fearless journalists in Tanzania who has made enemies due to his style of watchdog journalism,” said the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) in a statement.
Absalom Kibanda, who is editor-in-chief at the media group New Habari, told FAIR, “They beat me heavily until I fell down … then one of them said we are told to finish him, what are we still waiting … the other guy responded by saying ‘No, don’t do that’.”
Kibanda has previously been arrested and charged with sedition charges in 2012, following commentary by one of his reporters challenging the police to stop implementing orders that directly violate human rights in the country. On the day of his attack, Kibanda was due to appear before the Dar es Salaam court to face sedition charges instituted against him under the draconian Tanzania Newspapers Act of 1976.
“Mr Kibanda himself faces what are clearly spurious charges of sedition over the publication on his watch of an article critical of the politicisation of the security forces. It is clear that a climate of official antipathy to a free press may create conditions in which those who are ready to use force to secure silence feel they can do so with a tacit license from the authorities,” said the South African National Editors’ Forum.
FAIR said it would demand “an urgent investigation into recent cases of abuse and harassment towards Tanzanian journalists”. It said members of the organisation were in the process of brokering high-level talks with the Tanzanian government and police officials, to gain assurances for the safety of journalists.
“He was attacked by three men, one carrying a gun. His left eye was stabbed. Doctors are yet to confirm whether he will regain his vision. The top of his right finger was chopped off,” said FAIR board chairperson Mzilikazi wa Afrika, who visited Kibanda in Johannesburg.
“Tanzania has on its statute books a draft of legislation which is hostile to the practice of independent journalism and powerful figures in that country’s political and business establishment do not hesitate to use it to silence critical voices,” Sanef said.
“We are pleased that Mr Kibanda is now receiving good medical care, and wish him well in his recovery. We will offer him our full support while he is in our country, and our solidarity on his return home. We will call on South Africa’s representatives at the South African Development Community to convey our concerns to their Tanzanian counterparts, and to ask that his assailants be brought to book.”