AFEX Calls on African Governments to Actively Promote, Defend Freedom of Expression

Mr. Edetaen Ojo
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Chairperson of AFEX Steering Committee

Ahead of various activities planned in commemoration of World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) in 2019, the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) called on the governments of African States to actively promote and defend the right to freedom of expression.

AFEX, the continental network of some of the most influential freedom of expression and media rights organisations in Africa, pointed out that journalists remain the major drivers and vehicles for advancing the fundamental rights to free expression and access to information in Africa as in other parts of the world.

It noted that: “However, the safety of journalists continues to be a huge challenge with increasing reports of attacks such as arbitrary arrest and detention, jailing, physical assault, crippling fines, use of or introduction of laws that are inimical to freedom of expression and even killings, which are used as weapons to silence critical journalism in many countries around the world.”

The World Press Freedom Day 2019 which was hosted by the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has been commemorated every year on May 3, since 1993. The WPFD is set aside to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

AFEX said African governments can achieve promotion and protection of freedom of expression by increasingly supporting and co-sponsoring freedom of expression and safety of journalists’ resolutions at various multilateral forums such the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Human Rights Council, among others.

It pointed out that its reports show that about 11 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have co-sponsored freedom of expression resolutions since the first resolution was adopted in 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland urging that more African governments should prioritise the support of such resolutions.

The network also called on African states to “adopt mechanisms to strengthen national data collection, analysis and reporting on the number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture and other harmful acts against journalists and associated media personnel, in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator 16.10.1.”

The group insisted that African governments “must collaborate with other stakeholders such as civil society actors, journalists and security agents in securing justice for victims of freedom of expression violations as well as victims of other crimes perpetrated against journalists and allied professionals.”

It observed that obtaining justice for victims of crimes against journalists requires a lot of resources, including human and technical support from law enforcement agencies and prosecutorial bodies who are usually tasked with investigating such crimes against journalists and punishing perpetrators. Governments, it added, have financial resources which civil society organisations and media organisations do not always readily have at their disposal to pursue investigations of such crimes to a logical conclusion.

AFEX added that “African governments should ensure that their laws, policies and practices are in full compliance with the available international obligations and commitments on the safety of journalists, as required by UN resolutions on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.”

To this end it said there is the need to repeal of criminal libel and defamation laws as stipulated in regional, continental and international frameworks, citing the decision of the African Court on Human and People’s rights in 2014 in the case of Konate vs Burkina Faso, where the Court ruled that the imprisonment of journalists under criminal defamation laws violates the right to freedom of expression.

AFEX also urged African countries to support the upcoming resolution on safety of journalists which is expected to be passed by the UN General Assembly at the end of 2019.

It noted that nowhere around the world can the work of journalists and other media practitioners be more relevant and important than in Africa which has for long been regarded as the “Dark Continent” because of the level of ignorance that has bedeviled the region, adding “African leaders must be in the vanguard of charting a new direction for the continent.”