Africa: Media freedom seriously threatened
Media freedom has increasingly come under attack in many countries across Africa with journalists targeted for exposing corruption and human rights violations, said Amnesty International ahead of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
The organisation is calling on all African governments to ensure that journalists are able to carry out their work without fear, free from intimidation and harassment.
WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA
“In West and Central Africa violations of media freedom continue unabated. From Gambia to Cameroon, journalists are either threatened or forced into exile because of their work. Over the past few years, repressive governments in the region passed legislation restricting and undermining the right to freedom of expression,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International Regional Director for West and Central Africa.
“It is important to protect the right to freedom of expression of journalists and bloggers while allowing free and independent media to investigate and report global issues without fear, intimidation or harassment. Media freedom must be fully and effectively guaranteed,”
The July 2013 Information and Communication (Amendment) Act in Gambia provided penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment and hefty fines for vague and ill-defined offences including: criticizing government officials online; spreading “false news” about the government or public officials; making derogatory statements about public officials; and inciting dissatisfaction or instigating violence against the government.
In Cameroon, the open hostility towards the media has led to journalists being arbitrarily arrested and detained, with some facing the threat of terrorism charges under new anti-terror laws. The plight of journalists worsened during the time of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Journalist David Tam Baryoh was arrested for comments made on his radio programme regarding the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak. He was detained for 11 days before being released on bail.
“A number of media outlets have come under direct attack from their governments, facing intimidation and harassment, with some media houses being shut down. Journalists have been arrested arbitrarily, tortured and sentenced on spurious charges over the past year because of their work. We have seen systematic attacks against journalists during election periods. This must stop,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
In Burundi, the Government has this past week prevented the private radio stations Isanganiro, Bonesha and Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) from broadcasting live coverage of the protests against the third term and beyond Bujumbura. The RPA is now shut down, together with mobile access to Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp. The Government of Burundi has accused the media of inciting an insurrectional movement.
In Ethiopia, many journalists and media workers are currently in prison or have been convicted in absentia because of their work. Journalist Eskinder Nega was found guilty in 2012 of "preparation or incitement to terrorist acts”, “participation in a terrorist organisation” and "high treason" and sentenced to 18 years in prison. His only “crime” was to write critical articles about the government, calling for freedom of expression to be respected. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience.
In Sudan, journalists working in print media face harsh legal restrictions. The 2009 Press and Printed Materials Act continues to fall short of regional and international standards by imposing restrictions on the media in the interests of “national security and public order.”
Since January 2015, at least 20 newspapers have had editions of their publications confiscated on 45 different occasions by the country’s National Intelligence and Security Service. Around 25 journalists have been interrogated by the police and the security agency.
“In countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Angola we are seeing a disturbing pattern of journalists being targeted simply for doing their work. Journalism is not a crime. It is a profession like any other and it should be seen as such. States security agents must stop targeting journalists,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa.
In South Africa, the government and ruling African National Congress are pushing for a tribunal to regulate the media under the guise of “transformation”.
In Angola, criminal libel laws are being used to target the well-known investigative journalist Rafael Marques de Morais. He is facing more than 20 defamation charges for publishing a book in Portugal in 2011 which highlighted corruption and human rights violations allegedly committed by Angolan army generals and companies operating in the country's diamond communities. He is due back in court on 14 May 2015.
In Swaziland, journalists continue to be threatened with violence, arrest, prosecution or other forms of pressure as a consequence of their work.
On 25 July 2014, Bheki Makhubu, editor of the monthly news magazine The Nation, was sentenced by the High Court to two years in prison for criticising the lack of judicial independence in the country.
In Zimbabwe, Edmund Kudzayi, editor of a state-controlled newspaper, was arrested and faced several sedition charges which he denied in 2014. He was also accused of being linked to an online blogger, “Baba Jukwa”. The blogger had more than 400,000 followers and was involved in a naming and shaming campaign against ZANU-PF officials before the July 2013 elections.
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