Worrying Trend of Violence Against Journalists and Threats to Media Freedom in Eastern Africa

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By Florence Gichoya

ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa recently launched a report on cases of human rights violations against journalists and media outlets across East Africa since January 2013. At least 13 journalists have been killed in the region showing a worrying trend of media intimidation.

Somali remains the deadliest country in the region for journalists, where the group notes the killing of 10 journalists so far this year.

The report provides a snapshot of the violence and intimidation including reports of death punitive legal action taken in relation to media reports, as well as bans to publications and broadcasts for the past ten months.

“The killing of journalists is the ultimate form of censorship and a severe blow to democracy. The authorities must make every effort to bring those responsible for these killings to justice or risk the security situation deteriorating even further” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 East Africa.

It is important that all stakeholders take responsibility in proper evidence documentation and not blanket accusing government or political parties. Journalists need to hold each other accountable. “While impunity reigns, corruption also reigns in journalists” Henry Maina observed. The common cry of “poor pay” is not sufficient to warrant compromising the rule of law. Journalists should work together to weed out the rot in the profession.

photo 1
Patrick Mutahi, the Programme Officer – ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa

Patrick Mutahi the programme officer with ARTICLE 19 observed that all Eastern African countries have enacted national laws guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of media. However, there have been cases of deliberate attacks on editors in Tanzania and hostile environment on investigative work in Kenya. In Uganda there have been reported cases of journalists’ assaults and arrests. In May 2013, media houses like Daily Monitor, KFM, and Dembe FM were shut down by the state.

Rwanda has seen three journalists arrested and on 4th June 2013 copies of the Rwandan newspapers Impamo, Rushyashya and Intego were confiscated by guards in Gatuna at the border with Uganda. The guards alleged that the newspapers contained information that President Paul Kagame might seek re-election for a third term. Five days later, the newspapers were released after the media owners agreed not to publish the information.

Somalia is a conflict zone and there are constant deliberate attacks on media workers by clans, warlords, and alshabab. This year alone 10 Somali journalists have been killed, 4 media houses banned and 22 journalists arrested. Rahmo Abdulkadir a Somali journalist who worked for Abudwaq media network was shot dead on 24th March 2013. No arrests have been made despite the police promising to investigate. Fu’ad Nur Alasow who worked for Radio Al-Fuqaa was shot dead by Al-Shaabab after the terrorist group accused him of spying for the government.

Eritrea is a closed country that is run in presidential decrees since the constitution was suspended. There are scores of Eritrean journalists in exile or imprisoned by the state and the numbers are not ascertained. There is lack of political will to promote freedom of expression in the country.

Fasil Girma a journalist from Ethiopia during the Report launch
Fasil Girma a journalist from Ethiopia during the Report launch

In Ethiopia, the government controls the flow of information and journalists are not allowed to form a professional association. The country has only one state TV broadcaster and only government sponsored newspapers are in circulation. The anti-terrorism law adopted in 2009 has been used by the state to intimidate journalists and arrest them. Solomon Kadebe an Ethiopian journalist with Yemuslimoch Guday Magazine was detained in January 2013 and his case is being held in a closed court.

Lawrence Mute, Commissioner at Africa Commission on Human and People’s Rights emphasized that “impunity cannot be resolved outside the political context; it is lazy to ascribe all impunity to the state organs. Media ownership, business community interests and terror groups like Al Shabab also play a key role in propagating impunity in the region.”

The report was launched to coincide with the International Day to End Impunity which is commemorated on 23rd November. Impunity has had a chilling effect on the media in the region with many journalists opting for self-censorship. The society is left with a vastly controlled media that is not protected and unable to provide the public with objective information on vital issues. Instigators of attacks on journalists are rarely held accountable thus leading to impunity cycle.

This report has been compiled from initial media monitoring by ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. It includes information about cases in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. These incidents are currently under investigation by ARTICLE 19 which is working to verify and fully document the human rights abuses against journalists and media outlets in each country.

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One thought on “Worrying Trend of Violence Against Journalists and Threats to Media Freedom in Eastern Africa

    4africaorphans said:
    November 26, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Africa's Orphans and commented:
    We must not allow despotic mentalities to destroy our most advantageous assets.

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