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Freedom of expression organisations call on African governments to implement a number of legal reforms and end the criminalisation of expression

(IFEX) - The following statement was issued by the Africa Caucus at the 11th General Meeting of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) in Baku, Azerbaijan, 13-18 June 2004, and is endorsed by the signatories below:

Statement by African Free Expression Organisations
At the 11th General Meeting of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) In Baku, Azerbaijan, June 13-18, 2004

We, African free expression organisations;

Noting that the legal systems of many countries in Africa have over the decades retained or enacted new laws that criminalise various forms of expression and journalistic activity;

Observing that criminal sanctions are an unwarranted response to breaches of journalistic ethics and only serve to repress free speech and public debates;

Further observing in particular that "insult laws", security legislation, criminal defamation, and sedition laws, among others, are increasingly being used by repressive governments to stifle free speech and curtail debates on matters of public interest;

Stressing that African people have a right to participate in governance and democratic processes and are, in the vast majority of cases, precluded from doing so because of a culture of secrecy in government;

Recognizing the need for an effective mechanism for the protection and enforcement of fundamental rights and freedoms on the African continent;

Therefore, call on African governments to undertake a comprehensive review of all content-related offences, and in particular to ensure that criminal sanctions are removed from all such laws to bring them into conformity with international human rights standards;

Further call on African governments to enhance transparency, accountability and good governance, and in particular, to take urgent steps to repeal official secrecy laws and adopt legislation and policy that facilitate access to information;

Urge African governments that have not yet ratified the protocol for the African Human Rights Court to take steps to do so; and,

Finally, impress upon African governments and the African Union the need to ensure the effective functioning of the court by demonstrating political will and committing adequate resources to the institution.

Issued by:

East Africa Media Institute, Somalia
Freedom of Expression Institute, South Africa
Journaliste en danger, Democratic Republic of Congo
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda, Nigeria

Endorsed by:

Azerbaijan Journalists Confederation
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network, International
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations
Central Asian and Southern Caucasian Freedom of Expression Network
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala
Committee to Protect Journalists
Freedom House
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa
Greek Helsinki Monitor
International Federation of Journalists
International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech "Adil Soz"
International Press Institute
Independent Journalism Center, Moldova
Journalists' Trade Union
Pakistan Press Foundation
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
World Association of Newspapers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, International PEN

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