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IFEX members urge African Union leaders to ensure safety of journalists

The 15th African Union (AU) Summit took place last week in Kampala, Uganda, designating 2010 as the "Year of Peace and Security in Africa." The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and 36 other journalists' unions and associations took the opportunity to send a letter to the AU, urging government leaders to make the safety of African journalists a priority. Signatories to the letter include the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA).

Many African communities are suffering from armed and non-armed conflict and the letter says African journalists are targeted if they attempt to report on corruption, lawlessness, civil insurgencies or drug trafficking. "Their only crime is their defence of African peoples' right to know, their determination to expose all forms of corruption and their conviction that everyone should enjoy the right to free expression."

Last year, 13 African journalists were murdered, nine of them in Somalia. This year, three journalists were murdered in Nigeria, one in Somalia, one in Rwanda and one in Angola. Journalists face arrest, torture and are also killed in the crossfire of armed conflict. They are injured, displaced or mentally scarred, just because they try to practice their profession. Many of the perpetrators of these murders enjoy complete impunity.

"If the Year of Peace and Security is to have a lasting meaning, African leaders should do more to make journalism safer and bring to an end the injustice of impunity," says the letter.

Even within the parameters of the AU Summit, press freedom was violated. According to the Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), an IFEX interim member, a radio journalist attending the summit was arrested on 19 July by the Presidential Guard Brigade. Rogers Matovu, 22, was released on 24 July in the middle of the night. He was not given any reason for his detention.

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