African Commission Calls Governments to Safeguard Press Freedom and Protect Freedom of Expression

Lindiwe Khumalo
Acting Executive Secretary to African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has called on African governments to safeguard press freedom and protect freedom of expression, emphasising that press freedom and freedom of expression play crucial roles in shaping a future of rights.

Making the call during the commemoration of the 2023 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo, said the Commission joins the international community in raising awareness about the significance of a free press and reminding governments of their responsibility to uphold the right to freedom of expression.

The 2023 WPFD was commemorated under the theme “Shaping a future of rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights,” and it focuses on the pivotal role that freedom of expression plays in safeguarding and promoting all other human rights. The African Commission recognises the essential function of media and communication in ensuring the full respect of freedom of expression, facilitating informed decision-making, and strengthening democracy.

While acknowledging the progress made in Africa with the proliferation of independent media and the advancement of digital technologies that enable the free flow of information online, the African Commission expresses concern over the increasing threats faced by media freedom, journalist safety, and freedom of expression saying these threats, if left unaddressed, could have detrimental consequences for the promotion of human rights.

Amidst global crises such as armed conflicts, socio-economic disparities, environmental emergencies, and public health threats, the proliferation of disinformation and misinformation both online and offline poses a significant risk to institutions upholding democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Polarised political and social discussions, erosion of trust, states of emergency, internet shutdowns, suppression of critical voices, hate speech, and online harms all continue to undermine freedom of expression.

In response to these critical situations, the African Commission emphasises the utmost importance of prioritising press freedom, journalist safety, and access to information. Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights recognises freedom of expression as a fundamental prerequisite and driver for the enjoyment of all other human rights.

On the 2023 occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the African Commission called upon African governments to safeguard and promote press freedom, support independent and diverse media outlets, protect the right to freedom of expression and access to information both online and offline, and combat disinformation and propaganda. It urged governments to create safe and secure environments for journalists, free from harassment, intimidation, and violence. The commission urged that discrimination should be actively combated, and the rights of marginalised groups, including women, children, refugees, and migrants, should be taken into particular consideration.

The African Commission also recognises the crucial role of media organisations in informing and educating the public, holding governments accountable, and promoting democratic values and human rights.

Reaffirming its commitment to upholding press freedom which it says fosters transparency, accountability, and good governance, the Commission called upon all stakeholders to join in this vital endeavour pointing out that press freedom is not only essential for building a better future for Africans, but it is also a driving force for social, economic, and political development.