International Press Institute (IPI) members have expressed their concern that that space for press freedom is fast shrinking in Africa with governments and politicians using archaic laws and new measures to silence critical voices and independent media.
The emerging threat to press freedom on the continent and in 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 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 last year. In Somaliland, journalist Mohamed Adnan Diri was sentenced 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. Together with editor Mariano Brás, they were 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. Several Angolan journalists have fled the country into exile to protect the lives of their families.
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 the country become one of the world’s most heavily censored. The biggest continuing threat to media freedom in Zimbabwe is its oppressive media legislation, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa has not indicated a clear willingness to reform.
The members also recalled with concern the decision by the Communications Authority of Kenya to force a group of private broadcasters off-air over their coverage of an opposition leader’s symbolic presidential “inauguration” following a contested 2017 presidential poll.
They 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. They also asked the Tanzanian government to expedite an investigation into the disappearance of journalist Azory Gwanda since October.
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, IPI members urged the government to expedite the investigations into the killing of three journalists last year and bring to justice those responsible.
They also urged governments in Africa, as well as the African Union, 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 organisations in Africa, African governments and the AU should support safety training of journalists and, in collaboration with insurance companies, offer them health and life insurance at a discounted premium.
Among other demands, IPI members called on African governments to release all journalists imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression and drop all charges against them and end impunity for crimes committed against journalists.
Issued by the IPI Secretariat