The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) ), a network of African freedom of expression groups, has called on governments in Africa to intensify efforts to protect freedom of expression online and offline. The call came at the network’s 5th Annual General Meeting held in Montreal, Canada, on June 16, 2017.
AFEX expressed concerns over the deteriorating state of freedom of expression in Africa saying the increasing incidence of killings, physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and detentions; threats and harassment of journalists, media professionals and activists in Africa as threat to the enjoyment of free expression and the ultimate development of the continent.
In particular, AFEX “condemned the abuse of public power and legal provisions by highly connected state and non-state actors to muzzle freedom of expression and stifle critical journalism for narrow personal and political gains”.
The group pointed out that most of the violations perpetrated against journalists and activists go unpunished due to the deep-seated culture of impunity and entitlement in the continent.
It reaffirmed its strong condemnation of all acts of violence meted to journalists and freedom of expression advocates in the region and called on governments in Africa to commit to ensuring that journalists carry out their legitimate duties freely without any intimidation whatsoever.
The group also frowned at the use of “spurious charges” against journalists by state or non-state actors to counter dissent which, according to it, undermines and weakens democracy.
Furthermore, AFEX expressed concern over government’s activities that undermine freedom of expression online, which includes content filtering, restrictive cybercrime laws and internet shutdowns describing them as threats to freedom of expression online and called on governments in Africa to respect their citizens’ right to share and access information through the Internet.
Furtherance to the aforementioned, the Network called for the abolition of all criminal defamation laws and the decriminalisation of press offenses by African countries that are yet to do so.
According to AFEX, several journalists have been killed in the last three years, with their killers not brought to book pointing out that this development has laid back the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression by African citizens. It noted that the killing of journalists is the surest way of silencing dissent or even intimidating journalists into self-censorship, thus further emboldening perpetrators of these heinous crimes to recommit such violent acts.
The network implored countries heading to the polls in 2017 and beyond to ensure journalists are free to cover the electoral process freely, adding that “attacks on journalists and suppression of freedom of expression rights during elections undermine the democratic tenets of any country.”
The network supported the ongoing efforts by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, to develop Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa, under the auspices of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, with a view to guaranteeing free and fair elections on the continent and the overall strengthening of democratic governance in Africa.
AFEX members paid tribute to media personnel, civil society activists and human rights defenders who have been put behind bars unjustly or even killed for standing for cherished democratic values and fundamental human rights.