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Eighteen IFEX members sign on to letter highlighting recent violations of press freedom and freedom of expression in the region


(MISA/IFEX) - The following is a joint appeal signed by eighteen IFEX members, highlighting recent violations of press freedom and freedom of expression in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region:


29 June 2001

President Sam Nujoma
President of the Republic of Namibia
Chairperson of the Southern African Development
Community (SADC)

Your Excellency

RE:
· Government ban on advertising in the "Botswana Guardian" and the "Midweek Sun" newspapers in Botswana.

· Government ban on the circulation of the print version of "The Guardian" newspaper and "The Nation" magazine in Swaziland.

· Government ban on the purchase of "The Namibian" newspaper by government institutions in Namibia.

We, the undersigned members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), recently attended the IFEX Annual General Meeting in Bangkok from June 3-8, 2001. We wish to highlight the most recent violations of press freedom and free expression that are taking place in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

We are gravely concerned about the recent actions of the Botswana, Namibian and Swaziland governments to stifle press freedom and the free flow of information in their respective countries. Their actions clearly contradict principles of freedom of expression that are provided for in the Africa Charter on Human and People's Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Windhoek Declaration on the establishment of a free, independent and pluralistic African press.

These actions described hereafter took place shortly before and after World Press Freedom Day, which was celebrated internationally on May 3, 2001. The eyes of the world were focussed on Windhoek where, on that day, the 10th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration was celebrated. The actions of the Botswana, Namibian and Swaziland governments therefore came as a great shock and negate the accepted notion of the role the media plays in maintaining and promoting democratic cultures, values and standards in southern Africa.

Botswana: On May 1 2001, Molosiwa Selepeng, Permanent Secretary to the President, confirmed a punitive Cabinet decision to withdraw government advertising from the "Botswana Guardian" and the "Midweek Sun" newspapers due to the two newspapers' critical reportage.

Namibia: On May 30, 2001, President Sam Nujoma of Namibia ordered a total ban on the purchase of "The Namibian" newspaper by the Government of the Republic of Namibia. That directive by the President was issued hot on the heels of an earlier Cabinet decision, taken on December 5 2000, to ban government line ministries from advertising in the newspaper on grounds that it maintained an "anti-Government stance".

Swaziland: On May 4, 2001, Swazi Minister of Information banned "The Nation" magazine and "The Guardian" newspaper for the second time because "they are prejudicial and/or potentially prejudicial to the interests of the public order in that they are not duly registered and/or are not operating in accordance with the applicable laws of the Kingdom of Swaziland."

Your Excellency, President Nujoma, we therefore appeal to you as the chairperson of SADC, to remind southern African governments of the commitment they made when signing these regional and international instruments that promote freedom of expression, including media freedom.

Signed:

ARTICLE 19
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Centre algérien de promotion de la liberté de la presse
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (CENCOS)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA)
Free Expression Ghana (FEG)
Human Rights Watch Europe
Independent Journalism Centre (IJC)
Index on Censorship
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS)
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Journaliste en danger (JED)
Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression (NFFE)
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
PERIODISTAS
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)


Media Institute of Southern Africa

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