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Ahead of African Union summit, three IFEX members and other organisations launch campaign to get journalists out of jail

(IFJ/MFWA/WAJA/IFEX) - The following is a 29 June 2007 joint press release from IFJ, MFWA, WAJA and other organisations:

June 29, 2007, Accra Ghana

"IFJ African Journalists out of Jail Campaign"
Call to Heads of State of Africa and the Africa Union

Free All Journalists Imprisoned in Africa!

By The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ),

In Collaboration With

The Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations (NAFEO)
The West African Journalists association (WAJA)
The Ghana Journalists association (GJA)
The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
The Centre for Research Education and Development of Rights in Africa (CREDO)
The All Africa Editors Forum (TAEF):

As we are gathered here, 13 journalists are languishing in jail in Ethiopia at the Kality prison in Addis Ababa, 15 other colleague journalists are held incommunicado in jail in Eritrea; in the Gambia "Chief" Ebrima Manneh a Gambian journalist was arrested in July 2006 and is being held incommunicado.

Last week in Mali five journalists were arrested and released a week later after a suspended sentence for an archaic offence to the head of the state legislation. This followed a dissertation a high school student wrote about the girl friend of an imaginary president of the republic. The school teacher has been sentenced to a 2 month imprisonment and is currently held in jail.

In many parts of Africa, journalists, media workers and citizens have been forced to exile, maltreated, and assassinated for exercising the right to independent journalism and to free speech, namely in Zimbabwe, DR Congo, Swaziland; Somalia, etc. . .

Since 2001 in Eritrea, 15 journalists are being held in prison, incommunicado and not even charged. In September 2001, opposition leaders advocated for democratic reforms, which were widely carried by the press. Following these reports, ten journalists were arrested along with some opposition leaders. All private media houses have been forced to close down. The Eritrean government in an official statement labelled the journalists as "traitors working for the enemy" and a threat to national security. Five other journalists were arrested before the wave of repression began in 2001. Eritrea is the only country in the world where there are no independent media or foreign correspondents.

The government of Ethiopia is holding 13 journalists in its jails after its police went on a rampage raiding newspaper offices, confiscating equipment and issuing lists of wanted editors and writers in a naked crackdown against dissenters in November 2005, following general elections six months earlier. Let us recall that 20 journalists were arrested and only 8 of them were released last April, while the rest are still kept at the Kality prison in Addis.

It is worth recalling that Ethiopia has more than 100 journalists in exile; this is similar for Zimbabwe. Many of our governments have forced journalists into exile. For decades, aggressions, assassinations, use of arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment of journalists, and misuse of criminal charges within special courts and unfair trials have continued unabated in Africa.

This barbarism should stop; the African media and the media in the world should continuously expose these cases of acts of harassment and persecution of journalists by many African states and continue to make them the headlines.

The creation of the African Union (AU) in 2000 raised hope for Africa in several respects. In its Constitutive Act, the AU states among its objectives the wish to "promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance; promote and protect human and peoples' rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and other relevant human rights instruments." These values require the consolidation of democracy, rule of law, the possibility for all African citizens to take part in public affairs, freedom of expression, and press freedom.

The right to inform and to access information is one of the conditions for and criteria of democratic governance. It implies respect for freedom of expression and, particularly, the public's access to the means of information as well as access, for journalists, to information in the public domain; guaranteed media pluralism and the existence of a public information service.

The implementation of these rights in different AU Member States is currently very uneven. They are, moreover, often violated. The right to communicate is not among the major principles or criteria for good governance of the African Union, nor is it among the criteria for the peer review mechanism of the NEPAD. We are very unhappy about these omissions.

We wish to note that despite the arbitrary persecution, harassment and murder of media professionals on the continent, some governments have already implemented reforms or taken decisions with a view to respecting press freedom. Other African governments should be encouraged to follow these laudable examples.

In this regard:

We, the International Federation of Journalists, our members and affiliates all over Africa, together with NAFEO, WAJA, MFWA, GJA, CREDO, TAEF, call on the Heads of States of AFRICA meeting in Ghana, July 1through 3, 2007, and the AFRICA UNION COMMISSION:

1- To instantly ensure the release all journalists and media professionals imprisoned in Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Gambia and the whole of Africa
2- To institute measures to end the impunity when journalists and media professionals are brutalised and assassinated in the exercise of their work
3- To order the reopening of all media outlet closed down by governments
4- To create conditions for the return of exiled journalists into their home countries

The IFJ is hereby launching the "African Journalists out of Jail Campaign" and will put out a release announcing the setting up of the activities of the campaign.

International Federation of Journalists
Media Foundation for West Africa
West African Journalists Association

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