The Africa Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) has released its report on the annual freedom of expression situation in Africa covering the year 2018 with findings that showed Somalia and Nigeria recording the highest number of instances of violations.
The report documents 208 freedom of expression violations in 30 countries across East, West, Central and Southern Africa in 2018. For all the 30 countries cited, the report says, freedom of expression rights are duly guaranteed in their respective national constitutions and with the exception of South Sudan, have ratified the African Charter which has provisions for the respect of freedom of expression rights.
During the period, eleven killing incidents were recorded.
The report found two categories of violations commonly perpetrated across the countries monitored including physical attacks, and arrests and detentions with about 35 percent (73 incidents) of the 208 violations recorded as physical attacks and 24% (50 incidents) as arrests and detentions.
Another form of violation which the report noted is gradually, but increasingly becoming prevalent across the continent is online violation which takes many forms including social media or internet disruptions and shutdowns, threats, arrests and detentions, and other forms of abuses which are meted out against individuals for their online expression.
Identifying perpetrators of freedom of expression violations the report says “arrests and detentions are carried out by state security agents; sentences are pronounced by courts; shutdown and/or suspension of media outlets by regulatory bodies, and killings by unknown assailants and state security agents.”
On the status of the violations, the report shows that impunity situation on the African continent did not change much in 2018 as most of the violations documented did not receive any redress: “Specifically, out of the 208 violations recorded, only 14 (6.73%) received redress. The remaining 194 were still unresolved at the time of finalising this report.”
The made some recommendations targeting specific stakeholders.
It called on African Governments to ensure that the right to freedom of expression and access to information which are legally guaranteed by national, regional and international frameworks are respected and upheld by all, including state security agents.
African Governments were also called to address the impunity challenge by ensuring that violations against freedom of expression rights are thoroughly investigated and severely punished to serve as deterrent to others and to train security agents on non-violent crowd control measures to deploy during demonstrations.
They were also urged to establish effective, multi-stakeholder national mechanisms to coordinate issues of safety of journalists in Africa.
AFEX called on security agents to uphold the rule of law by protecting and respecting people’s right to freely express themselves (including through protests) and access to information.
The group also asked them to investigate all reported incidents of attacks against journalists, activists or individuals and work with the judiciary to punish perpetrators of freedom of expression violations while also refraining from using excessive force against journalists, demonstrators, etc.
The group also called on media owners and journalists to prioritise the safety of all media workers at all times and support journalists with safety tips or equipment for covering potentially dangerous issues.
It also called on them to use media platforms to educate the general public about the right to freedom of expression, access to information and assembly, highlighting the role of the state and state security agents in promoting and protecting these rights.
It also urged media owners and journalists to ensure that attacks against journalists and other media workers are thoroughly pursued till justice is served.
On the African Union (AU), AFEX called on it to set up a coordination mechanism on safety of journalists at the continental and ensure that Member States adhere to regional and international frameworks such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Universal Declaration for Human Rights.
It also called on the AU to sanction Member States that continue to violate the freedom of expression, assembly and access to information rights of their citizenry.
It called on the African Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information to undertake fact-finding missions to Member States that systematically violate he right to freedom of expression and access to information including Nigeria, Somalia and Ghana, and make appropriate recommendations.