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African free expression community charts new course in struggle for safety and rights of journalists


(NUSOJ/IFEX) - For the first time in the history of the NGO Forum meeting preceding the 48th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, a distinguished panel on freedom of expression and protection of journalists was convened. This eminent panel expressed deep concern about the safety and protection of journalists in Africa on 7 November 2010, during the opening day of the 3-day NGO Forum, at the Kairaba Beach Hotel, in the Gambian capital, Banjul.

The Panel was chaired by Fatou Jagne Senghore of ARTICLE 19, who introduced the state of free expression in Africa. She highlighted the lack of adequate protection for journalists, especially those working in conflicts zones. In every corner of the continent journalists' safety and security are compromised with total impunity, she said. "Legal insecurity and safety of journalists in conflict and post conflict as well as assassination of journalists send frightening signals and constitutes a major source of oppression of freedom of expression in Africa," said Madame Senghore.

President of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), Omar Faruk Osman, in his statement highlighted that journalists in Africa are the most prosecuted group of human rights defenders in the continent. Arbitrary arrest and detention, intimidation, confiscation of media equipment, kidnapping, forced exile, torture and murder continue unabated in most African countries in an attempt to silence the media. Osman, who is also the Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), called on African Governments to guarantee the safety of journalists and to ensure that those who perpetrate crimes against journalists are brought to justice.

"A decade into the new millennium, assassination of journalists is all so common as has been witnessed in Nigeria, Angola, Uganda, Cameroon and Somalia. Lengthy and unlawful detention of journalists, threats to the lives and livelihoods of media professionals, abductions, censorship in both the traditional and new media, as well as enactment of unusual draconian legislations are still with us," Osman said.

During the Panel discussion on 'Freedom of Expression and the Protection of Journalists in Africa' the President of the National Union of journalists in Cameroon, Alex Gustave Azebaze Djouaka, said that the situation of the media in Central Africa has been deteriorating continuously due to the persistent formulation of repressive legislations that criminalize press offences, coupled with the non-existence of Access to Information Laws, which seriously limits journalists' access to vital public information. In Cameroon, over a dozen journalists have been taken to court over the past year. What is most worrying is that some journalists are still languishing in jail without ever being brought to court. One of these journalists, Bibi Ngota, has actually died in jail.

In a similar vein, Rashweat Mukundu of Freedom House expressed concern at the regression of the respect for media and freedom rights in Southern Africa. Mukundu said nothing has changed in repressive states such as Zimbabwe and Swaziland where the tools of repression remain intact. Mukundu added that South Africa faces a new danger in the form of a proposed Media Tribunal and Protection of Information law that criminalizes many aspects of journalism and free expression.

In its 2010 Press Freedom Report, Freedom House noted that there are no countries with a free press in Southern Africa as governments seem to be learning bad examples of media repression from each other.

Concerning the Eastern Africa Region, the President of the Union Burundais Journalistes (UBJ) and the Vice President of the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA), Alexandre Niyunkego lamented that already this year, 7 journalists have been killed in the Eastern Africa region. There has also been rampant closure of media houses in Somalia and Uganda, while in Sudan, journalists continue to face political harassment and so far, three journalists have been jailed this year. In Burundi, journalist Jean Claude Kavumbagu is still in jail and faces treason charges. According to Niyunkego, "Eritrea is today the worst prison for journalists. Thus, some thirty journalists are behind bars for nine years, cutting all contact and all communication, even with their families."

In West Africa, President of West African Journalists Association (WAJA), Mohammed Garba, highlighted the fact that the judiciary in the region has not helped in securing the safety and protection of journalists. "The lack of independence of the judiciary in most countries in the West African region has resulted in the imprisonment of many journalists. The number of journalists murdered in the region has also increased while the authorities and state agents have failed to apprehend the perpetrators of these heinous crimes," he said.

The members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) who also significantly contributed to the promotion and defence of safety and protection of journalists in the NGO Forum are Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) and Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

The NGOs Forum finally adopted powerful resolutions on freedom of expression and the protection of journalists by urging the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights to:

1. Follow up its decisions on communications and resolutions and ensure that member states comply with them;

2. Endorse the Declaration of Table Mountain (DTM) adopted by WAN-IFRA in Cape Town in 2007 to repeal insult and criminal defamation laws in all African Countries;

3. Convene at the next session of the African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights a high level panel on freedom of expression and protection of journalists;

4. Take all necessary measures to ensure that member states comply with their obligations under the African Charter and the Declaration of Principles on the Freedom of Expression in Africa;

5. Call for the intervention of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information and the Chair of the Commission to provide technical support and guidance to South Africa in its deliberation on these potential threats to Freedom of Expression;

6. Call upon member states of the African Union to adopt Freedom of Information laws and repeal all laws and provisions that inhibit free speech;

7. Call upon member states of the African Union to respect the provisions of their various constitutions with regards to the independence of the judiciary and separation of powers;

8. Put pressure on African Union member states to release all journalists and other free expression advocates in detention and make the safety and protection of journalists a priority;

9. Encourage African governments to respect the plurality of the print media and allow state broadcasters to operate as true independent public service broadcasters;

10. Pressure African Union member states to probe all violent actions against journalists which have occurred in their territories when their armed or security forces may have been involved in them;

11. Urge the African Union and its member states to adopt the proposed resolution on safety and protection of African journalists in the upcoming African Union summit;

12. Urge African Union member states to investigate crimes against journalists and bring perpetrators to justice; and to offer witness protection for those testifying against perpetrators;

13. Call on member states of the African Union to release all prisoners of conscience imprisoned for peaceful exercise of their rights of expression, assembly and association.

Click here to download the full resolution:
AdoptedResolutiononFOEandprotectionofjounalists.pdf (84 KB)

National Union of Somali Journalists
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Freedom House
Media Foundation for West Africa
West African Journalists Association

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