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African journalists and civil society organisations call for respect for free expression at African Commission of Human and People's Rights sessions

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - 14 May 2010 - Journalist leaders and civil society organisations from across Africa called attention to the dire free expression situation in many countries last week at the Forum for Non-governmental Organisations (NGO Forum) held on the occasion of the 47th Session of the African Commission of Human and People's Rights in Banjul, Gambia.

Representatives from the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA), National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and the Syndicat National des Journalistes du Cameroun (SNJC) took part in the forum and worked with other organisations to outline the deteriorating situation of journalists and the state of freedom of expression in many African countries.

The groups raised alarm at the recent killing of journalists in Somalia, Cameroon, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. "Journalists are the mouths, the eyes and the ears of the citizens of Africa, including human rights defenders, and they are murdered just for speaking. Journalists allow the people to hear unheard stories. The Commission must give priority to addressing the press freedom crisis and safety crisis facing messengers in this continent," said Omar Faruk Osman, president of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) as well as the Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

"Freedom of expression is under threat in every corner of the African continent. The killing of media professionals is hitting the highest point ever; harassment and intimidation of journalists has become common practice - and these acts are being committed in order to curb fundamental freedoms," said Omar Faruk Osman.

The journalist groups also cooperated with ARTICLE 19 to present a powerful resolution on freedom of expression to the NGO Forum, which was adopted. The Forum stated its deep concern about the "considerably deteriorating state of freedom of expression and freedom of information in Africa" in the final resolution presented to the Commission.

The resolution also condemned the suppression of freedom of expression of journalists in Somalia, Cameroon, Eritrea, Uganda, Gambia, Zimbabwe and Tunisia. For the first time, the human rights groups at the African Commission NGO Forum expressed "solidarity with the hapless Somali journalists" and condemned, in no uncertain terms, "the continued and perilous violence against journalists and other media workers in Somalia".

The resolution urged the African Commission of Human and People's Rights to "demand that member States abolish all draconian laws that curtail the rights to freedom of expression and the press as stipulated in the African Charter; and to encourage member States to immediately enact laws of freedom of information and to decriminalise all media offenses".

The resolution further urged the African Commission of Human and Peoples' rights to:

1. Call upon the government of Uganda to demonstrate its stated commitment to freedom of expression, democracy and to immediately end attacks on the right to freedom of expression and of the press including the ban on media houses and live radio debate programmes.

2. Put pressure on the Gambian government to produce journalist Chief Ibrahim Manneh and to investigate the killing of Deyda Hydara.

3. Play a leadership role by taking appropriate actions that would lead to the unconditional and immediate release of the journalists from prisons in Eritrea.

4. Demand Cameroonian authorities immediately end attacks on the media and provide an independent and reliable report on the death of Bibi Ngota who died in pre-trial detention.

5. Implement the recommendations on Zimbabwe that were adopted by the Commission during the 46th session requesting that the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression conduct a fact-finding and investigative mission to Zimbabwe; and requesting the repeal of article 79 and 80 on the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

6. Convene a high-level panel on the protection of journalists in Africa at the 48th session of the African Commission of Human and People's Rights.

7. Conduct a fact-finding mission to Tunisia for an objective and documented assessment of the situation of pluralistic and independent media, freedom of association, the independence of the judiciary and the detention of prisoners of opinion.

8. Put pressure on all governments and armed groups to adhere to and respect their international obligations to bring to an end the culture of impunity, to foster lasting peace and the rule of law, and to bring to an end the fear of journalists to be killed, tortured, injured, kidnapped and being held hostage, especially in conflict areas.

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