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CAPSULE REPORT: ARTICLE 19 notes grave deterioration of free expression situation in Somalia, decreasing violations in West Africa

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of ARTICLE 19's December 2007 "Around Africa" bulletin:

Around Africa - December 2007

Unusually high numbers of journalists have been killed worldwide in 2007, as shown in an analysis conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists which states that the number has increased from 56 in 2006 to 65 (86 unconfirmed deaths). Alarmingly the confirmed death toll in Africa has increased from 2 to 10, of which 7 have occurred in Somalia.

2007 Backsliders
Reports from the past year have shown a grave deterioration in press freedom in Somalia, a country whose fragile state has seen it declared the most dangerous country for journalists in Africa and ranked the second most dangerous worldwide. Journalists are frequently subjected to harassment, attacks, and censorship resulting in significant numbers fleeing to neighbouring countries. Media institutions are also regularly threatened with closure and confiscation of equipment by government authorities.

In further news on Somalia in December 2007, the Transitional Federal Parliament has approved a new National Media Law. ARTICLE 19's critique of the law before it was passed is available here: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/analysis/somalia-notes-on-draft-media-law.pdf. Also this month, ARTICLE 19, together with the National Union of Somali Journalists, UN Somalia, Amnesty international and the East & Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network displayed solidarity with Somali journalists at an event celebrating Human Rights Day on 10 December 2007.

( . . . )

The Kenyan Presidential and legislative elections were held on 27th December 2007. The outbreak of violence and chaos that has ensued since the controversial re-election of Mwai Kibaki as President has also impacted on the media with an order issued on 30 December, banning live broadcasts - effectively imposing a media blackout. The situation in Kenya remains tense, with deadly clashes being reported in Nairobi and several provincial cities. Local journalists have reported that news is now circulating mainly by means of SMS messages.

Intolerance and Defamation
Zambian authorities have banned a radio station from broadcasting a live phone-in show for allegedly "becoming a platform for confrontation, controversies and a channel of insults and misinformation"; MISA Zambia have called the decision an "assault on media freedom and freedom of expression, and contrary to democratic reforms".

In Egypt, 6 lawsuits for insult and defamation were brought before the Court on 10 December against journalist Wael El Ibrashi, chief editor of "Sawt El-Omma", an independent newspaper. El Ibrashi is used to facing trial as a result of the candid content of the newspaper, which is considered a free platform for fighting corruption in Egypt. In an earlier case, El Ibrashi, among other chief editors, was sentenced to a one year imprisonment term in a lawsuit that will be brought to the El Agouza Appeal Court on 26 January. To learn more about defamation globally follow this link for a global defamation tool launched by ARTICLE 19 in December 2007: http://www.article19.org/advocacy/defamationmap/map/

Meanwhile in the Gambia two newspapers and two radio stations remain forcibly and arbitrary closed. The Gambia's press freedom record remains a concern to ARTICLE 19, the journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh is still imprisoned and there has been little progress towards justice for the death of journalist Deyda Hydara despite renewed calls for an investigation by freedom of expression NGOs in December. Further cases of intolerance of the media have arisen in the Congo, Sudan, Liberia, and Morocco, among others.

Media Improvements 2007
The outlook for Africa is, however, not so bleak; ARTICLE 19 partner, Media Foundation for West Africa, has reported overall improvements in the West African region for press freedom with a decline in incidents of press freedom violations in 2007. In the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia's first private commercial radio station, Sherger Radio, is launched and running. "Addis Neger", a private weekly, was also launched in Ethiopia - demonstrating greater awareness and concern for freedom of expression in the country, in what is the first independent political publication for two years.

Around Africa is compiled of news alerts from various sources.

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