Mother of arrested Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera pleads for his release

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Ms Verdiana Mujwahuzi, 80, sat pensively on the black leather sofa set at the journalist’s Mbweni home on the outskirts of the city, eyes rolling from side to side as she relived the anguish she has been going through in the last few days.

Dar es Salaam. “What news do you have for me, my son? she asked as soon as I was ushered into the sitting room.

She was alone when I arrived. Two small kids, her grandchildren, played outside with the househelp, the only other person at the compound at the time.

Her daughter in law was not at home. She was in town to try to see her husband, Erick Kabendera, the freelance journalist who is said to be locked up at the Central Police Station following his arrest Monday.

Fear. Sadness. Anxiety. It’s a concoction of feelings written all over her face. Unsettled.

Ms Verdiana Mujwahuzi, 80, sat pensively on the black leather sofa set at the journalist’s Mbweni home on the outskirts of the city, eyes rolling from side to side as she relived the anguish she has been going through in the last few days.

“I am suffering, my son. Look at me, I don’t sleep well nowadays, waking up in the middle of the night everyday at the thought of not knowing what will befall my son,” she told The Citizen yesterday.

She spoke to the media for the first time since Mr Kabendera, her only son, was arrested from the home on the evening of Monday, apparently by plainclothes security officers. Dar es Salaam police boss Lazaro Mambosasa has since said the police arrested the journalist over a citizenship investigation.

But, Ms Mujwahuzi is aghast at the claims by the police. “Kabendera is my son, I gave birth to him here in Tanzania and there has never been doubt where he comes from. The police should tell the truth and let everybody rest,” she said, pointing out that she has gone through several interrogations over the citizenship claim.

At 80, Ms Mujwahuzi is ailing and has been at her son’s home recuperating. Witnessing the arrest, she says, left her tormented and traumatised. “I am worried more because no one is telling me what is happening to him,” said Ms Mujwahuzi, who struggles to stand up and reach for the door everytime someone knocks at the door.

Ms Mujwahuzi wonders what crime his son has committed. She doesn’t believe that it is only about being a Tanzanian or not. The old woman questioned the government’s intention of questioning her son’s citizenship, insisting that her son is a Tanzanian by birth.

According to her, on Wednesday she was interrogated by ten people, who, she was later told, were Immigration officials who sought to confirm her son’s citizenship.

“They interrogated me for not less than an hour. They wrote on some ten pages of a notebook,” said Ms Mujwahuzi, a former school teacher in Kagera Region.

As a teacher - and, despite her relatively advanced age - she still recalls the importance of record-keeping and repeated it during the interview. “This is the second time they have interrogated me about this matter. The first time was in Bukoba about four years ago. My question is: why can’t they keep their records?”

“They are today talking to me on this. But, in 2013, they also talked to my husband who has since died. Do they have his statement - which they wrote down then? she wondered.

She said she was saddened and shocked by the turn of events. “I appeal to those holding Kabendera to release him because, as far as I know, he is innocent. My mind will be settled when he comes back.”

Ms Mujwahuzi is currently under prolonged medication for hypertension - and fears that continued detention of her son may worsen her health. “His arrest is a big blow to the entire family because he is everything to us.”

“My son is the one who buys the prescription drugs for me. As I speak, the drugs are finished and it has been two days without taking the medication - which could be dangerous, as the doctors warned us,” she says.

However, the old woman says there’s hope that all will end well - and that Kabendera will come back home safe and sound. Acording to her, the Immigration officials who interrogated her reaffirmed that the citizenship issue would be resolved following her interrogation.

“This matter has negatively impacted development activities by family members and close relatives, as we are forced to stop engaging in productive work in order to follow up on their kin,” Ms Mujwahuzi lamented.

Mr Kabendera was briefly returned to the home on Wednesday in the company of police officers who searched his house.

Reports have it that another team of police officers went to the home yesterday.

Pressure for Mr Kabendera to be released has been mounting from within and outside the country. Human rights activists have filed for a Habeas Corpus order at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in Dar es Salaam for his release. Hearing of the case will be on Monday.

The distraught journalist’s wife says she was not in the right frame of mind to indulge in an interview.

“I can’t talk now, my husband is incarcerated and I am too stressed to be able to concentrate,” she pleaded on the phone when reached for comment.

Yesterday, there were conflicting reports about who exactly was holding the journalist between the Immigration department and the regular police.

The Immigration Passport and Citizenship Division Commissioner, Mr Gerald Kihinga, insisted that they were still incharge even as other reports by Kabendera’s lawyers were that he had been handed to the regular police who were drafting criminal charges against him. “We are still holding him for further questioning…” Mr Kihinga simply retorted.