Watchdogs raises alarm over attack on media freedom in EA

In Tanzania the CPJ condemns the recent closure of the Mawio newspaper and arrest of its journalists.

Monday February 1 2016

Journalists protest in Kisumu on November 7, 2013 against MPs' vote to pass into law the Information and Communication Amendment Bill, which they believe will be a threat to press freedom.

Journalists protest in Kisumu on November 7, 2013 against MPs' vote to pass into law the Information and Communication Amendment Bill, which they believe will be a threat to press freedom. In Kenya, the CPJ says “a combination of legal and physical harassment is making it increasingly difficult for journalists to work freely.” PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PAUL REDFERN
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Press freedom across the East African region is under more threat than before, according to international watchdogs.

In a series of critiques on the three governments of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania by Article 19, Reporters without Borders and the Committee to Protection Journalists (CPJ) — who rank Kenya as the worst in terms of press freedom — all are accused of a systematic clampdown on the media through intimidation and new laws.

In Kenya, the CPJ says “a combination of legal and physical harassment is making it increasingly difficult for journalists to work freely”.

It adds that restrictions on the Kenyan media come at a time when public discourse and transparency “are essential, in light of hefty government spending on development, high-profile terrorist attacks and the indictment of the Deputy President by the International Criminal Court.”

In Tanzania, the CPJ condemns the recent closure of the Mawio newspaper, effective from January 15, 2016, and the arrest of its journalists.

It says the closure was “especially disappointing, coming only two months after the election of new president, John Magufuli, stirred expectations for stronger democracy”.

“We are extremely concerned that Tanzanian news outlets are facing retaliation for reporting on the political crisis in Zanzibar,” said CPJ’s Africa Programme Coordinator Sue Valentine.

“We call on authorities to allow Mawio to publish freely and to set about changing the country’s outdated media laws that can be too easily abused to stifle the flow of information.”

PROFESSIONAL HAZARDS
The CPJ says the developments come just days after the lifting of a year-long ban on the distribution of The EastAfrican.

In Uganda, the CPJ says it is “concerned that journalists are being prevented from freely covering Parliament” and next month’s presidential elections.

It says it has evidence that journalists “have also reported being attacked and threatened while covering the election campaign”.

Article 19 says it is “deeply alarmed by recent escalation of arrests and prosecutions of online communicators, including bloggers, in Kenya.”

It adds that Section 29 of the Information and Communication Act regarding "improper use of a licensed telecommunication gadget" is being increasingly used by State officials to target those communicating online.

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