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Africa-EU summit must speak out against imprisoned journalists in Africa

French President Francois Hollande talks with Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Guinea President Alpha Conde, 2 April 2014.
French President Francois Hollande talks with Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Guinea President Alpha Conde, 2 April 2014.

AP Photo/Yves Logghe

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has called on the European and African Heads of State attending the Africa-EU Summit in Brussels today, Wednesday 2 April, to include the continuous imprisonment of journalists in many African states in their discussions.

In an open letter sent to the leaders in attendance, the IFJ says that in order to foster long term development in African states a free and vibrant press is fundamental to hold governments accountable and advises that this must be at the heart of their discussions on democratic governance in Africa.

Signed by IFJ President Jim Boumelha, the letter also calls on all African leaders at the summit to press African governments, particularly those of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt, to free all journalists in their prisons, end intimidation of journalists and open trustworthy investigations into violence against journalists.

The letter states: “The IFJ believes that media freedom and the protection of journalists should not be confined solely to occasional human rights dialogue at country levels, which have done little to improve the situation in which journalists operate in Africa, it is now crucial that the disturbing treatment of journalists is firmly on your agenda and not swept under the carpet.”

Highlighting the plight of journalists in Eritrea, the letter states that it has always been the foremost jailer of journalists in Africa, with some 28 journalists held in the “most inhumane and cruel prison conditions”, some of them believed to be dead by now.

The Ethiopian government is another state which has also been in the spotlight for its crackdown on press freedom in recent years, and the letter states that, with seven journalists behind bars, it trails only Eritrea as Africa's worst jailers of the press.

And the IFJ also accuses the military-backed interim government in Egypt of setting out a “pattern of intimidations and imprisonment of journalists,” the latest being th Al-Jazeera journalists jailed on trumped up charges.

The letter also highlights the actions of other African countries, including Morocco, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwand, which also hold journalists in jail, albeit in smaller numbers.

In a final plea to the leaders at the summit, the letter urges: “Your clear voice on these issues would particularly resonate throughout Africa, and give hope to independent journalists, dissidents, and human rights groups, and, most importantly, give greater credibility to your dialogue and action plan, and in particular your focus in the field of governance and human rights.”

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