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Free expression and law in 2011

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 5 April 2012 - In this statement, ARTICLE 19 outlines the main legal developments regarding freedom of expression and freedom of information in East and Horn of Africa in 2011, in particular: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania, Rwanda.

The statement covers:
* new legal and policy developments
* key judicial decisions that have had a serious impact on the protection of freedom of speech.

Overview

POSITIVE TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS

There have been some positive developments in the region, as well as a number of successful campaigns by human rights advocates.

* In Kenya and Rwanda substantive drafts of freedom of information legislation have been developed, involving civil society in ongoing consultation processes. On the regional level, ARTICLE 19 commends the adoption in 2011 of the African Platform on Access to Information. This has been developed by groups across Africa, including ARTICLE 19. The Principles contained in this document stipulate that:

"access to information is a fundamental human right"
"the right of access to information shall be established by law in each African country."

They provide guidance to African states on the right to freedom of information, including the importance of:

battling corruption
protecting whistleblowers
promoting unhindered access to Information Communication Technologies
promoting access to electoral information.

The document has been endorsed by both the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights.

* ARTICLE 19 also welcomes the draft of a model law on Access to Information by the special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights. Stakeholders' views and input are now invited.

Human rights defenders and free speech activists have continued to campaign for change through:

involving stakeholders in consultation on draft laws
lobbying for repeal of existing laws
engaging with regional and international partners
publicising violations of expression and information rights in their countries.

NEGATIVE TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS

Restrictive legislation in all East African countries continues to operate, with no signs of the acts that violate international and regional standards on freedom of expression being repealed.

* Reports of attacks on journalists continued in 2011.
* There were no reports of perpetrators being brought to justice as a result of deaths, assaults and other forms of harassment of journalists and human rights defenders.
The proliferation of technology in the region has had a mixed impact on freedom of expression and information.
* In Uganda, social media has been shut down, for example to hinder the dubbed 'walk to work' protests against the high cost of living.
* In Ethiopia and Eritrea, the continued high level of control and monitoring of the Internet and other media by both governments continues, as does political censorship and heavy government control of the infrastructure.
* In Kenya and Rwanda, the race to meet the global digital switchover deadline may be at the expense of access to information for those who cannot afford the "switchover" technology needed to continue to access television services. There are no comprehensive regulatory or legislative frameworks governing the process or the new digital environment. The focus of these governments seems to be more on the required infrastructure and technology needed to meet the switchover deadlines rather than a balanced approach, which considers both the infrastructure and the required legal frameworks.

Read the full statement

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