New York, January 8, 2008—Police in Dar-es-Salaam said Monday that they had two suspects in custody after armed men stormed the newsroom of a popular vernacular newspaper and seriously injured two top journalists, according to local reporters and news accounts.
Managing Editor Saed Kubenea of the Kiswahili-language Mwana Halisi and veteran journalist Ndimara Tegambwage, a consultant with the weekly, were preparing this week’s edition when three men armed with a machete and an unidentified chemical broke down the newsroom door and assaulted them at 9 p.m. local time Saturday, according to the same sources. The assailants splashed a chemical in Kubenea’s eyes and struck him in the face with a stone, Tegambwage told CPJ. Persistent eye pain forced doctors at Dar-es-Salaam’s main Muhimbili Hospital to transfer Kubenea to India for further treatment, according to local journalists. Tegambwage was hit on the side of the head with a machete, causing a wound requiring 15 stitches.
Tegambwage, who was discharged from the hospital on Sunday, told CPJ that he was still suffering from headaches and pain but was recovering at home. He said the attackers made no demands but appeared intent on harming Kubenea. Tegambwage said the assailants escaped with his mobile phone.
In a press conference today, Dar-es-Salaam Police Commander Alfred Tibaigana said police had recovered the mobile phone and a bloodstained hat belonging to one of the journalists, according to the English-language daily Guardian. Kubenea had received several anonymous threatening text messages since June 2007, he added. The two suspects had not been formally charged as of today.
Local journalists said they believed the attack was linked to the paper’s exclusive investigative stories on public corruption and government mismanagement, according to local journalists. A story in this week’s edition featured a purported official document implicating top government officials in alleged financial irregularities involving the embattled state-owned Bank of Tanzania, they said.
“We condemn in the strongest terms this brutal attack on our colleagues,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Anything short of a thorough and transparent investigation, including a probe into possible masterminds, would send the wrong signal about Tanzania’s democratic credentials and law.”
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete condemned the attack on Monday shortly after visiting Kubenea at the hospital, according to news reports. The Guardian reported the president as saying that the attack “undermined government’s efforts to have a free and vibrant media.”
Distinguished for the boldness of its stories, Mwana Halisi derives a greater proportion of its revenue from circulation than do most Tanzanian papers. Thus, CPJ research shows, it is less prone to self-censorship driven by private and government advertising considerations.