This Week in Africa
The week of 13 – 18 October witnessed some free expression violations and challenges on the continent as reported by some members of the African Freedom of Expression Exchange in some countries.
In West Africa – The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) issued a special report on how restrictions on press freedom were impeding access to timely and accurate information on Ebola. It would be recalled that since the outbreak of the disease, West Africa has been the worst affected in the world. However, efforts to contain the outbreak of the disease have been associated with various forms of press freedom restrictions and attacks on journalists, which continue to hamper the provision of timely and accurate information to the public. The MFWA’s report highlights incidents of Ebola-related freedom of expression violations; the challenges with respect to media freedom and professional reportage and the positive and negative contributions of the media—including social media and bloggers—towards efforts to prevent and contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The report notes how journalists in Liberia have been attacked, harassed, censored and restricted under a state of emergency, which included curfews and restrictions on general human rights. The special Ebola-focused report also highlights challenges in Guinea, where three journalists were brutally killed by a mob during a mission to provide information on Ebola, and the situation in Sierra Leone, where officials have adopted measures that have the potential of instilling fear in journalists and deterring independent and impartial reporting. AFEX fully endorses the report and joins the MFWA in calling for swift measures by the authorities concerned to ensure journalists are protected and that they are able to have access to information that they will, in turn, churn out for the consumption of the public.
In Somalia – The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) reported an assassination attempt on Abdirisak Jama Elmi, a senior Somali journalist and Director of Somali Channel TV in Mogadishu. Abdirisak Jama Elmi was hit by three bullets at the back and on the stomach while he was leaving his house. He was admitted at the Mogadishu’s Madina Hospital for treatment. The Head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), General Abdirahman Mohamed Turyare, visited the wounded journalist at the hospital and instituted an investigation into the attempted murder of the journalist. This step by the Somali Government to conduct an investigation into an attack on a journalist is significant as it is the first of its kind. This demonstrates the readiness of the Somali Government to collaborate with journalists and the media to guarantee freedom of expression as a way of ensuring democratic development and consolidation. For some time now, there has been a media crackdown on Somalia which has been characterised by arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, frequent attacks on the media and other forms of serious human rights violations. This has forced several journalists to flee the country for fear of being persecuted or killed. AFEX joins NUSOJ in welcoming Government’s intervention on this issue. We would like to express our readiness to engage and partner the Somali Government in an effort to rebuild the Somali State.
In Uganda – The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U) reported two incidences of free expression challenges in Uganda within the week. In the first instance, a Magistrate’s Court at the Law Development Center in Kampala has fixed the 12th of November to hear a case where HRNJ-U Board Chairperson, Mulindwa Mukasa, a journalist with the Associated Press, is accused of ‘obstruction’ by the Wandegeya Police Station Commander, Julius Caesar Tusingwire. This was after a court, presided over by the Senior Principal Magistrate Grade 1, Shwanda Nkore Jolly, overruled a preliminary objection by Mulindwa through his lawyer, Isaac Kimaze Ssemakadde, to dismiss the case on grounds that service of criminal summons was improper, occasioning a miscarriage of justice as he was served through a text message by the investigation officer through a third party. In her ruling, Nkore, however, stated that the process of service did not occasion a miscarriage of justice. AFEX adds its voice to that of the HRNJ-U in demanding the dismissal of the court case against the HRNJ-U Board Chairperson, since, according to the HRNJ-U, there has been a failure on the part of the police to apply the law on proper service.
In the second instance, the HRNJ-U reported that a Vision Group journalist, Luke Kagiri, was on 11th October, assaulted by two men claiming to be Ministry of Health security officers. The journalist was covering a story on a man suspected to have died of Marburg, a disease said to have broken out in the country. The journalist’s camera was destroyed in the process by one of the men, Nkogyo Joseph, who was travelling in a ministry of health vehicle. Another journalist, Enock Matovu of the Nation Media Group’s NTV, used the rear gate of the hospital to escape the attackers. Kagiri was further slapped in the presence of the police. However, the area police spokesperson, Phillip Mukasa, declined to comment on the status of the investigations into the matter. Furthermore, Ministry of Health could neither own nor disown the said attackers. AFEX joins the HRNJ-U in urging the police to expedite investigations into the assault against the journalist and to bring the perpetrators to book.