The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a network of African freedom of expression and media development organisations in Africa, has condemned impunity for crimes against journalists and called on African governments to commit to upholding the right to freedom of expression in the continent.
AFEX made this pronouncement on April 7, 2019 through a communique issued by the network following the meeting it held ahead of biennial Strategy Conference and General Meeting of the global press freedom advocacy network, IFEX held in Berlin, Germany.
The AFEX meeting was presided over by the Chairperson of AFEX’s Steering Committee and Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Edetaen Ojo and attended by representatives of eleven of its 12-member organisations from West, East, Central and Southern Africa.
The meeting discussed challenges and developments around the freedom of expression and media freedom situations in Africa as well as lessons learnt during the past year and outlined strategies for addressing or responding to the existing and emerging threats to freedom of expression and media freedom on the continent. It also provided an opportunity for members to share experiences about the safety of journalists’ situation in different countries and regions in Africa and how to confront widespread impunity for crimes against journalists in the respective countries or regions.
The network denounced the attacks on and violations of the rights of journalists, media practitioners, freedom of expression activist groups and individuals across the continent in recent times, particularly in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, as well as the increasing crackdown on the media and journalists working in Mozambique, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Nigeria. It noted that several journalists have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, jailed or physically assaulted for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression and access to information in these countries.
It further condemned what it described as “the high level of impunity for crimes perpetrated against journalists and other media practitioners in the various countries resulting in an increase in freedom of expression violations on the continent.”
AFEX therefore called on “African governments to commit to upholding freedom of expression rights at all times as well as actively engaging in the co-sponsorship of safety of journalists or freedom of expression resolutions while actively ensuring the implementation of such resolutions by monitoring, reporting, and investigating crimes against journalists and punishing perpetrators.”
It reiterated the importance of establishing coordinated multi-stakeholder national mechanisms to guarantee the safety of journalists and other media practitioners who remain the major victims of freedom of expression violations, at both national and regional levels.
The group expressed concern “about the increasing use of network disruptions or internet shutdowns to stifle critical voices and public debates in general in various African countries, including Chad where social media platforms have been shut down since March 28, 2018.” It pointed out that other countries that have resorted to the use of network disruptions or Internet shutdowns include the DRC, Gabon, Sudan and Zimbabwe in addition to increased reports of attacks against internet users such as journalists, activists, bloggers and individuals for their online activities in Somalia, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Nigeria among other countries.
AFEX members further expressed serious concern over the apparent forced disappearance of Gwanda Azory, a Tanzanian freelance journalist who has been reported missing since November 21, 2017 and the continued lack of information about his whereabouts.
It commended the government of Liberia for decriminalising libel in the country amidst deteriorating state of freedom of expression and access to information rights on the continent and urged other governments across the continent to follow suit by putting in place urgent measures to decriminalise libel and defamation in their respective countries.
AFEX also commended the Ghanaian Parliament for passing into law the Right to Information bill while calling on the President, Nana Akufo-Addo to sign the bill into law speedily.
AFEX members welcomed three new members into the AFEX network: ADISI-Cameroon, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in Uganda, and the Gambia Press Union (GPU) increasing the membership of AFEX to 15 organisations.