Press freedom and journalist safety in Africa

Wednesday July 11 2018

Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) managing

Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) managing director Francis Nanai addressing journalists on the disappearance of MCL reporter Azory Gwanda last year. At a recent meeting, members of the International Press Institute (IPI) asked the Tanzanian government to expedite an investigation into the disappearance of journalist Azory Gwanda, who has been missing since October 2017.PHOTO|FILE 

By Special Correspondent

Abuja. The members of the International Press Institute (IPI), meeting at their 67th Annual General Assembly during the IPI World Congress on June 23, 2018 in Abuja, Nigeria, adopted by unanimous vote a resolution calling on African governments to protect the safety of journalists and to repeal laws that are being exploited to prosecute them.

IPI members expressed concern that that space for press freedom is fast shrinking on the continent, with governments and politicians using archaic laws and as well as new measures to silence critical voices and independent media. The emerging threat to press freedom in Africa and other parts of the world includes attempts by governments and politicians to harass journalists by smearing critical coverage as “fake news”. Of particular concern are new laws related to digital communication, which will effectively silence government critics.

IPI members noted that Ghys Fortuné Dombé Bemb editor of an independent paper in the Republic of Congo, has been in prison since January 2017. Similarly, journalist Mohamed Adnan Diri was sentenced by a court in Somaliland to 18 months in prison on charges of criminal defamation and publishing false news.

In Angola, journalist and 2018 IPI World Press Freedom Hero Rafael Marques de Morais faced up to four years in prison on charges of insult to a public authority over a 2016 article scrutinising a real-estate transaction involving Angola’s then attorney-general. He was acquitted on July 6. Marques has faced decades of harassment and prosecution at the behest of the government for exposing corruption and human rights abuses. Additionally, several Angolan journalists have fled the country to protect the lives of their families and are living as asylum seekers in neighbouring countries.

IPI members also expressed concern over the lack of progress on media freedom in Zimbabwe following the departure of former President Robert Mugabe, whose rule saw Zimbabwe become one of the world’s most heavily censored countries. The biggest continuing threat to media freedom in Zimbabwe is the country’s oppressive media legislation, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa has not indicated a clear willingness to reform.

IPI members also recalled with concern the decision by Kenya’s Communications Authority to force a group of private broadcasters off air over their coverage of an opposition leader’s symbolic presidential “inauguration” following a tightly contested presidential vote in autumn 2017.

IPI members also expressed concern over the methodical and worrying suppressing of press freedom in Tanzania, including the closure of five publications and two radio stations, as well as the passing of laws that pose a threat to media freedom. IPI members also asked the Tanzanian government to expedite an investigation into the disappearance of journalist Azory Gwanda, who has been missing since October 2017.

Several journalists in Africa have been killed in apparent retaliation for their work in recent years. IPI members urged African governments to ensure that those who commit crimes against journalists do not enjoy impunity and ensure that courts and law enforcement authorities are capable of ensuring justice.

In Nigeria, three journalists were killed in 2017. Those cases are still under investigation. IPI members urged the government of Nigeria to expedite the investigations and bring to justice those responsible.

IPI members also urged governments in Africa as well as the African Union to take robust action to ensure the protection of journalists in conflict zones. Five journalists have been killed in Somalia since 2016 owing to the ongoing conflict there, according to IPI’s Death Watch. Working with media organizations in Africa, African governments and the African Union should support safety training of journalists and in collaboration with insurance companies, offer health and life insurance to journalists at a discounted premium.

IPI members summarised their concerns by calling on all African governments to:

• Release all journalists imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression and drop all charges against them;

• End impunity for crimes committed against journalists;

• Promote freedom of the press, independent journalism and respect for the rule of law;

• Provide safety training to journalists; and

• Arrange for health and life insurance to journalists at discounted rates

(Issued by the IPI Secretariat)