Human rights defenders describe lack of freedom of expression in Africa

November 2, 2013

A three-day Forum on the participation of African NGOs at the 54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights [ACHPR] and also the 28th African Human Rights Book Fair concluded on Sunday, 20th October, 2013 in Kololi. The forum brought together stakeholders dealing with various human rights issues from different parts of Africa. Various reports were presented that touched on media freedom and freedom of expression as well as on laws and principles governing media practice such as defamation, sedition and other draconian laws that prevail in many African countries. Kebba Jeffang reports in the Foroyaa newspaper of 21 October on the results:

Speaking at the session on day 2, 19th October, Henry Maina, the Regional Director of from Article 19, expressed his dissatisfaction over certain unfortunate laws that prevail in some African countries and which are hindrance to media and its practitioners. He said all defamation laws and restrictions on Freedom of Expression must be proportionate to the harm done and not go beyond what is necessary. He cited few cases like the Tunisian Klay BBJ and the Sierra Leonean-Jonathan Leign, who was recently arrested and detained. There is an increasing number of journalists killed on the continent such as Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. He added that there are also arrests and trials on frivolous charges, physical attacks, threats and harassment which are still occurring. He also cited the banning, suspension, blockage and all sorts of crimes against the media. The Regional Director of Article 19 said there is glaring state of impunity which emboldens the perpetrators and their supporters to continue with such violations and also mixed signals from the judiciary.

According to Mr. Maina, despite their diversity, states have one thing in common and that is the colonial legacy’s Criminal defamation laws. He said criminal defamation, sedition, slander, libel and insult laws are still applied in countries such as The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Djibouti and Egypt. He also cited the interception of communication laws in Uganda and Rwanda, the Anti-terrorism laws in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and which, he added, are laws that have debilitating effects on FoE and media freedom due to the inordinately long prison sentences and the lack of privacy provisions in the African Charter.

Befekadu Hailu, an Ethopian journalist addressed on the issue of digital surveillance security system in Ethopia and described it as violating the right to privacy. According to him, the Ethiopian Constitution is one of the most generous ones as it contains all the given rights. He said it gives the nation, nationalities and peoples the right to self-determination, to succession and also the right to freedom of expression and right to privacy. However he added that the implementation of these laws is still unimproved. Mr. Hailu told the participants that the Ethiopian government bothers little to listen to alternative voices of the people before passing bills such as the Anti Terrorism Proclamation 2009 and many others that are all passed in the same way without giving the people a chance to reflect on the draft to recommend improvements on those violating the rights of the people. He said the national security officers do implement these laws on whoever they suspect of terrorism by tampering on people’s telephone conversations, text messages, internet, radio, electronic, postal and similar communications of a person. This, he said, violates the right to privacy as enshrined in the country’s Constitution. “I can disclose that Eskinder Nega, a blogger, was convicted for 18 years imprisonment in Kality. Abiy Tekelemariam and Mesfin Neyash, who are editors of, were sentenced 8 years in absentia, while Abebe Belew was also convicted of terrorism and sentenced in absentia. He is a journalist of an internet based radio called radio, Addis Dimits”.

Arthur Gwagwa from the Zimbawe Human rights NGO Forum, also talked about the situation of human rights issues, especially media freedoms and freedom of expression in Africa. In her report, she said that Zimbabwe has just introduced the right to privacy in May 2013. She said there is only one TV station in that country which is state-owned and two radio stations, one of which belongs to a high-ranking government employer.



4 Responses to “Human rights defenders describe lack of freedom of expression in Africa”

  1. […] Human rights defenders describe lack of freedom of expression in Africa […]

  2. […] Human rights defenders describe lack of freedom of expression in Africa […]

  3. […] Human rights defenders describe lack of freedom of expression in Africa […]

  4. […] Human rights defenders describe lack of freedom of expression in Africa […]

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