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Twenty-four IFEX members call for release of jailed journalists, reform of oppressive media laws, respect for free expression

(JED/NUSOJ/IFEX) - The following is a joint statement by 24 IFEX members and one other organisation:

Violations of Press Freedom and Free Expression in Africa

We, members and partners of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), who gathered at the 13th General Meeting of IFEX in Montevideo, Uruguay, join the members of the African regional caucus to express our extreme dismay at grave press freedom and freedom of expression violations that continue on a massive scale in many countries in Africa.

We would like to reaffirm support for regional initiatives underway through the Network of African Free Expression Organizations (NAFEO), the International Federation of Journalists' campaign to release all African journalists in jail, and the World Association of Newspapers-led Declaration of Table Mountain campaign to reform media laws that allow the imprisonment of journalists, such as criminal defamation laws.

We are particularly concerned about the perilous media freedom climate that allows the killing, jailing and intimidation of journalists in Somalia, the Gambia, Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea and countries of North Africa. Many journalists from these countries have been forced into exile.

Seven Somali media people have been killed in direct relation to their work this year, making it the second deadliest country worldwide for journalists in 2007. Four journalists were injured and dozens more were arrested. At least five news media outlets were closed down. Somali journalists are fleeing from their home country.

Brutal repression of the press and other independent voices in the Gambia make the country one of Africa's worst places to be a journalist. The Gambian government recently closed down a leading independent newspaper, jailed journalists without due process, forced others into exile, and brought criminal charges against the leadership of the Gambia Press Union.

The Zimbabwean government is continuing its onslaught on the local and foreign media by harassing, intimidating, and attacking journalists. The existence of a hit list of 15 journalists named by the Zimbabwean government, recently leaked by government sources, clearly demonstrates the hostility of the regime toward journalists.

Journalists in Democratic Republic of Congo are subject to violence, censorship, and arbitrary imprisonment by government forces, political factions, and rogue elements. Congolese authorities intentionally disrespect the rights of the press. The leaders of Journaliste en Danger (JED), a Kinshasa-based press freedom advocacy organization and a long-time member of IFEX, have received numerous death threats over the past three years, keeping them in a permanent state of insecurity.

Authorities in Eritrea and Ethiopia continue detaining journalists incommunicado. Journalists in these countries are prosecuted on charges of anti-state crimes. There is no independent media in Eritrea, and the Ethiopian government recently banned eight independent newspapers. Most of the independent journalists in Ethiopia and Eritrea are either in exile or in jail.

In Liberia, several journalists and foreign correspondents have recently been targeted by state security agents and presidential bodyguards, bringing to 33 the number of attacks on journalists under the current presidency. These acts should be investigated and their perpetrators brought to justice.

Northern Africa has also experienced a regression in its free expression situation, including judicial attacks on journalists - notably in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia. Tunisia continues to stifle free expression on all fronts.

We call upon African governments and groups in armed conflict:

1. To release all African journalists in jail, and bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists.
2. To guarantee the safety of journalists and media freedom activists, and respect freedom of expression as a fundamental human right.
3. To reform oppressive media laws, and end the criminalization of the independent work of the media.

Signed by:

Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI), Indonesia
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo.net), Egypt
ARTICLE 19, United Kingdom
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), Liberia
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), United States of America
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Egypt
Freedom House, United States of America
Globe International, Mongolia
IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET), Turkey
Index on Censorship, United Kingdom
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Belgium
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia Pacific office, Australia
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
Journaliste en danger (JED), Democratic Republic of Congo
Mizzima News, India
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Somalia
Norwegian PEN, Norway
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation (OLPEC), Tunisia
Public Association of Journalists (PAJ), Kyrgyzstan
West African Journalists Association (WAJA), Mali
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), United States of America

Journaliste en danger

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