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Militant insurgencies impact media freedom, fake news and elections, and more

Reporting militant insurgencies in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province becomes risky for journalists. The Kenyan LGBTQI+ movement disappointed with postponement of petition to have sections of penal code repealed. Africa celebrates three of the continent's shortlisted nominees for the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards 2019. A peaceful election in Senegal contrasts with electoral turmoil in Nigeria. Continued unrest in Sudan in spite of newly-introduced restrictive measures.

People pass by an effigy depicting the incumbent governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, during Nigeria's governorship and state assembly elections in Kaduna, 9 March 2019
People pass by an effigy depicting the incumbent governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, during Nigeria's governorship and state assembly elections in Kaduna, 9 March 2019


Mozambique's Cabo Delgado province a no-go area for journalists

The campaign to have Mozambican journalist Amade Abubacar released after he was arbitrarily detained in the Cabo Delgado province received a boost when local activist Cidia Chissungo got together with Activista Mozambique Movement and initiated the Hands for Justice online Twitter campaign.

Abubacar, a community radio journalist for the state-owned Rádio e Televisao Comunitária Nacedje de Macomia in northern Cabo Delgado, was arrested at a bus station in Macomia while he was photographing families fleeing militant attacks in the coastal province. He was initially held incommunicado in a military prison in Mueda for alleged terrorism, before being moved to a police station.

Chissungo put out a tweet asking for pictures of hands with "Free Amade" written on them, so they can be shared and form part of a petition. She said she would have liked to do more but with no resources at hand: "I had to think about something creative and also sustainable. And also something that will make everyone want to be part [of] without putting their image at risk as they're afraid of showing their faces. At least hands [are] soft. With the petition, we will share with all organizations that work with injustices like MISA, [and] the lawyers' forum OAM because they have the power to do directly something."

Chissungo's Hands for Justice campaign also connects with the numerous media advocacy and human rights organisations - such as the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International - demanding Abubacar's release.

Every day, CPJ publishes a tweet highlighting the number of days Abubacar has been in detention, while Amnesty International regional director for southern Africa, Deprose Muchena has also reported on Abubacar's deteriorating health. The campaigns have also been extended to include Germano Daniel Adriano, a second Mozambican journalist to be arrested in Cabo Delgado. He was detained on 19 February and, according to Club Of Mozambique online news, the "causes and circumstances of the detention of Germano, who works for the Rádio e Televisão Comunitária de Macomia, are unknown."

Research by Human Rights Watch indicates the army have been targeting any journalists who have tried to write about insurgencies in the area by an armed Islamist group known locally as both Al-Sunna wa Jama'a and Al-Shabab, with the result that Cabo Delgado has become a no-go area for the media.

Celebrating Africa's nominees for the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards

Three of the shortlisted nominees for Index on Censorship's prestigious 2019 Freedom of Expression Awards are from the African continent - no mean feat when you consider that nominees are selected from over 400 public nominations and narrowed down to just 16. The annual award honours individuals or organisations who have fought censorship in pursuit of the right to free expression.

Nigerian organisations (and IFEX members) Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and the Institute for Media and Society (IMESO) were nominated in the campaigning category, while Cameroon's Mimi Mefo, an award-winning broadcast journalist and the first-ever woman editor-in-chief of private media house Equinoxe TV and Radio, was selected in the journalism section.

Non-profit organisation MRA was lauded "for spending the last two decades working to improve media freedom and freedom of expression in Nigeria by challenging the government in courts." IMESO was acclaimed for "improving Nigeria's media landscape by challenging government regulation and fostering the creation of community radio stations in rural areas at a time when local journalism globally is under threat," while Mimi Mefo was hailed for "working without fear or favour in Cameroon's climate of repression and self-censorship."

Nigeria's election: Fake news, violence and accusations of vote-rigging

An abrupt, week-long postponement of Nigeria's presidential and parliamentary elections did little to overcome the logistical challenges which Nigeria's electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission, had cited as the reason for the delay.

Voting on election day was marred by delays, technical glitches, violence, attacks on party supporters, insurgencies by militant groups, killings, and accusations of vote-rigging.

The International Press Centre (IPC) in Lagos condemned the reported attacks on media practitioners during elections. Through their monitoring of the election, IPC were able to verify the harassment of journalists and media professionals which included an arrest, denial of access to collation centres and a gunshot injury.

A challenging drama was also being played out on social media platforms throughout the election campaign, with misinformation, popularly referred to as fake news, dominating the political discourse.

An editorial in South Africa's Mail and Guardian described how "the political strategy of spreading factually inaccurate information and negative rumours is part and parcel of Nigerian politics." The piece quoted Idayat Hassan, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), an Abuja-based policy advocacy and research organisation, who outlined in great detail how the sophisticated creation of fake news makes it more challenging to dispute, and explained the deadly consequences of this new political weapon.

The focus on fake news meant two other issues of major importance - the youth vote and women in leadership - received less attention than they deserved, especially considering it was Nigeria's first presidential election featuring a younger generation of voters born free of military rule.

As is the case through much of Africa, the presidential electoral landscape was dominated by septuagenarians aiming to capture the attention and support of the over 60% of Nigeria's 84 million registered voters who are aged between 18 and 35.

Understanding the critical need to appeal to youth, the opposition People's Democratic Party deployed Nigeria's millionaire pop star Davido to cajole young people into voting. Despite his massive appeal, well-attended concerts and rallies, and popular tweets using the hashtag #DefendYourVote, his preferred candidate Atiku Abubakar lost to incumbent president Muhammad Buhari. Unhappy with the result, Abubakar rejected the outcome of what he referred to as a sham election.

As usual, women were sidelined along with the youth – prior to the presidential and parliamentary election the question that kept being asked was: but where are the women?

Patriarchy, violence, and a conservative interpretation of religious belief are among the primary reasons given for the continued absence of women in Nigeria's electoral landscape.

The most insightful response might be that proffered by Mufuliat Fijabi, head of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, who explained to the online news outlet IOL that: "Women were attacked, threatened with violence and forced to give up their places to men during the party primaries last year."

Social media shutdown in Chad approaches 1-year anniversary

28 March will mark exactly a year since the Chadian government shut down social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp without any explanation.

Across the continent, such shutdowns have become synonymous with a desire to cling to power, silence dissent, and subdue electoral opposition - and Chad is no exception, with the blocking of internet and social media access being directly linked to political events.

As Julie Owono, director of Internet Without Borders, explained in a Quartz Africa interview: "Unfortunately, the Chadian regime is used to shutting down telecommunications, [the] internet in particular, whenever there are demonstrations or public expression of people's discontent towards the government."

Senegal's subdued election

On 24 February, Senegal, often described as Africa's poster child of democracy, went to the polls to elect their president for the next five years. Pitted against four other contenders, incumbent president Macky Sall was re-elected with 58 percent of the votes, a result confirmed by the nation's Constitutional Court. Sall's win was rejected by his opponents, who added that it was pointless to challenge the results.

While the Senegalese election was absent of the drama experienced in the Nigerian election campaign and the voting itself was largely incident-free, the Media Foundation for West Africa highlighted a number of critical issues in an analytical piece published in the run-up to the campaign.

In their piece, MFWA highlighted the enactment of a new law, that is supposedly aimed at tackling misinformation and online abuse, and which was described as innocuous by the Minister of Communication, Abdoulaye Bibi Baldé. Contrary to his description, a group of consumer organisations quoted by MFWA labelled it a "freedom-destroying law", stating that: "It allows the post and telecommunications authority and operators the possibility to block, slow down, filter, tax or monitor access to WhatsApp and other online applications to preserve mobile telephony operators' interests."

The MFWA went on to recommend tackling misinformation by improving the capacity of journalists to cover electoral laws and processes, while also calling on press freedom and human rights organisations to vigilantly play their oversight role and keep government in check.

Kenya: Countdown to #Repeal162 court ruling extended to May

In Kenya, the countdown continues to a highly-anticipated court ruling on sections 162 and 165 of the Penal Code, which criminalize same-sex relations. Kenya's High Court will now issue its ruling on 24 May, disappointing activists rallying around the #Repeal162 hashtag, who had been expecting a ruling in February.

As a packed courtroom waited in anticipation of the ruling, Justice Chacha Mwita said: "You may not like the news I have today. We are still working. One of our colleagues is still on leave. We ask you to give us up to May." Mwaita added that they had challenges in reading through huge volumes of paper files, an inability to convene all the judges at the same time and challenges in writing the ruling, reported VOA news.

The case dates back to January 2018, when the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), which works for equality and full inclusion of sexual and gender minorities, brought a petition before the High Court to have sections 162 and 165 of the Penal Code repealed.

Sections 162 and 168 of Kenya's Penal Code make vague reference to "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" and "gross indecency" and have often been used to prosecute members of the LGBTQI+ community. Punishment for breaking these laws is up to 14 years and five years imprisonment respectively. Homosexuality is taboo in Kenya as in most African countries, and persecution of sexual minorities is rife.

Not only did the NGLHRC have to contend with the disappointment of an extension on the ruling date, they also had to deal with misleading coverage of their court case by sections of the Kenyan media, who have misrepresented their petition as seeking to allow same-sex marriage.

Protestors undeterred by Sudan's state of emergency

Turmoil continues in Sudan despite President Omar Al Bashir's attempts to curb citizens from their "fall - that is all" protests. In what was widely viewed as a desperate attempt to cling to power, Al Bashir announced numerous restrictive measures to stifle the dissent sweeping through his country.

On 22 February, citizens waited expectantly after rumours that President Al Bashir would step down as head of his party. His conciliatory tone at the beginning of the televised announcement gave people hope, but his mood soon turned to defiance as he declared a year-long state of emergency instead. He also announced the dissolution of Sudan's federal and provincial governments and later announced that officials from military and security services would replace the sacked state governors. Emergency prosecutors and courts have been established throughout the country to deal with the expected upsurge in cases related to the state of emergency.

According to Brookings' monthly Africa report: "Following the announcement of the state of emergency, Bashir banned unlicensed public gatherings and awarded new powers to security forces including the power to search any building, restrict movement of people and public transport, arrest individuals suspected of crimes related to the state of emergency, and seize assets and property during investigations."

Undeterred by these restrictions, citizens are continuing their protests clamouring for Al Bashir to step down. However, as Human Rights Watch reports: "Hastily-formed courts set up by chief justice Abdelmajid Idris on February 25 have convicted hundreds of people in summary trials - for crimes such as protesting and disseminating anti-government information - without due process or access to lawyers in many cases, witnesses told us. Sentences range between fines and up to seven years in prison."

A parliamentary committee assigned to amend the Constitution to allow Al Bashir to contest presidential elections for a third term abruptly cancelled their meeting as protests continued. Al Bashir's resignation as head of the All Congress Party was finally confirmed on 1 March.

In brief

In Nigeria, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) launched their latest publication A Mixed Bag of Fortunes: Compilation of Rulings and Judgments in FOI Cases in Nigeria (2012 – 2018) to support lawyers litigating freedom of information cases.

In Somaliland, poet Abdirahman Abees, a British-Somaliland dual national, was released six weeks after his arrest, after being found not guilty of insulting the police and the government during a poetry reading. The court ruled the poet had exercised his right to freely express himself and ordered his immediate release. In an all-too rare gesture by a politician, Malawi's Vice President and head of political party United Transformation Movement (UTM) Saulos Chilima castigated party members for assaulting a stringer working for the Malawi Electoral Commission. VP Chilima also sent an apology letter, a move which was welcomed by MISA-Malawi.

In Uganda, three BBC journalists, Kassim Mohammed, Rashid Kaweesa, Godfery Badebye and their driver Shafik, were arrested and detained for two days and are facing charges of being in "unlawful possession of classified government drugs". The journalists say they were working on an investigative story into the alleged sale of government drugs on the black market.

Roots FM radio station in Liberia was attacked for the second time in less than two weeks. During the attack any equipment that was not destroyed was removed and taken away.

If you enjoyed this, check out all the February regional roundups!

Asia & Pacific
Middle East & North Africa

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