Members of the International Press Institute (IPI) have called on African governments to “protect the safety of journalists and to repeal laws that are being exploited to prosecute them”. At their 67th General Assembly during the 2018 IPI World Congress in Abuja, Nigeria, members unanimously passed four resolutions urging action on press freedom issues in
Members of the International Press Institute (IPI) have called on African governments to “protect the safety of journalists and to repeal laws that are being exploited to prosecute them”. At their 67th General Assembly during the 2018 IPI World Congress in Abuja, Nigeria, members unanimously passed four resolutions urging action on press freedom issues in Africa, Egypt, Turkey and in relation to the online harassment of journalists. IPI members also urged the government of Nigeria to expedite the investigations on three Nigerian journalists who were killed in 2017 and bring to justice those responsible
“IPI members expressed concern that that space for press freedom is fast shrinking on the continent, with governments and politicians using archaic laws and as well as new measures to silence critical voices and independent media. The emerging threat to press freedom in Africa and other parts of the world includes attempts by governments and politicians to harass journalists by smearing critical coverage as “fake news”. Of particular concern are new laws related to digital communication, which will effectively silence government critics”.
The members also called on the government of Egypt to release all journalists who have been detained for their journalistic work. They called for a proportionate state response to online attacks against journalists as well for newsrooms around the world to provide increased support to journalists who are the victims of such attacks. Members also called on the next Turkish government to free imprisoned journalists, to allow the full exercise of press freedom and to restore judicial independence and the rule of law.
IPI members noted that Ghys Fortuné Dombé Bemb editor of an independent paper in the Republic of Congo, has been in prison since January 2017. Similarly, another journalist, Mohamed Adnan Diri was sentenced by a court in Somaliland to 18 months in prison on charges of criminal defamation and publishing false news.
In Angola, journalist and 2018 IPI World Press Freedom Hero Rafael Marques de Morais faces up to four years in prison on charges of insult to a public authority over a 2016 article scrutinizing a real-estate transaction involving Angola’s then attorney-general. A verdict in the case is expected on July 6. Marques has faced decades of harassment and prosecution at the behest of the government for exposing corruption and human rights abuses. Additionally, several Angolan journalists have fled the country to protect the lives of their families and are living as asylum seekers in neighbouring countries.
IPI members also expressed concern over the lack of progress on media freedom in Zimbabwe following the departure of former President Robert Mugabe, whose rule saw Zimbabwe become one of the world’s most heavily censored countries. The biggest continuing threat to media freedom in Zimbabwe is the country’s oppressive media legislation, which President Emmerson Mnangagwa has not indicated a clear willingness to reform.
IPI members also recalled with concern the decision by Kenya’s Communications Authority to force a group of private broadcasters off air over their coverage of an opposition leader’s symbolic presidential “inauguration” following a tightly contested presidential vote in autumn 2017.
IPI members also expressed concern over the methodical and worrying suppressing of press freedom in Tanzania, including the closure of five publications and two radio stations, as well as the passing of laws that pose a threat to media freedom. IPI members also asked the Tanzanian government to expedite an investigation into the disappearance of journalist Azory Gwanda, who has been missing since October 2017.
Several journalists in Africa have been killed in apparent retaliation for their work in recent years. IPI members urged African governments to ensure that those who commit crimes against journalists do not enjoy impunity and ensure that courts and law enforcement authorities are capable of ensuring justice.
IPI members also urged governments in Africa as well as the African Union to take robust action to ensure the protection of journalists in conflict zones. Five journalists have been killed in Somalia since 2016 owing to the ongoing conflict there, according to IPI’s Death Watch. Working with media organizations in Africa, African governments and the African Union should support safety training of journalists and in collaboration with insurance companies, offer health and life insurance to journalists at a discounted premium.
IPI members summarized their concerns by calling on all African governments to:
- Release all journalists imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression and drop all charges against them;
- End impunity for crimes committed against journalists;
- Promote freedom of the press, independent journalism and respect for the rule of law;
- Provide safety training to journalists; and
- Arrange for health and life insurance to journalists at discounted rates
IPI members are extremely concerned about the deteriorating state of press freedom in Egypt and efforts by the government to stifle all independent, critical voices. Currently, Egypt is detaining over two dozen journalists and media workers in its prisons, which makes the country one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists.
IPI is pained to see that the Egyptian government is not paying heed to repeated demands for the release of journalists. Mahmoud Abu Zeid or Shawkan, a photojournalist, has been in prison since August 14, 2013. He faces the death penalty for taking photographs of attacks by the security forces on protesters’ camps during demonstrations against the coup that ousted former president Mohamed Morsi. In April 2018, Shawana was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. Last month, a military court sentenced Ismail Al Sayed Mohamed Omar Toufic, also known as Ismail Alexandrani, to 10 years in prison on charges of belonging to a banned group and spreading false news. He had been held in pre-trial detention since November 29, 2015. Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein has been detained without charge since December 2016. His detention has been extended arbitrarily despite repeated international appeals for his release.
Authorities have not presented evidence of wrongdoing in these or other casess. IPI members emphasized that these and other detentions of journalists are unacceptable and that a free and independent media is a bulwark of any democracy. Egypt, which claims to embrace democratic values, is instead silencing all critical voices.
IPI members also urged Egyptian authorities to reform the country’s anti-terror laws and other legal provisions that obstruct journalists’ ability to gather information and report, and to ensure that journalists can independently cover issues of public concern without fear of arbitrary detention.
It observed that throughout its history, Egypt has played a crucial role in the Middle East and North Africa and has served as a mediator among Arab nations. IPI members expressed a belief that Egypt can and should continue its leadership role and set an example for the region when it comes to freedom of the press.
Urging the government of Egypt and President Abdul Fatah al-Sisi to comply with its international human rights obligations and release all journalists and drop charges against them, members further noted that they remain open to engage in dialogue with Egypt’s government should it indicate a sincere desire to improve the state of free expression and press freedom.
Research conducted by IPI as part of its OnTheLine project has shown online harassment to be a phenomenon driven by both individual actors taking advantage of the Internet’s anonymity and immediacy to express personal animosity, and by Internet militias working on behalf of powerful vested interests – including, in some cases, state authorities and political parties – to intimidate and/or smear specific reporters and media houses.
IPI’s research has also revealed the debilitating toll that online attacks and harassment, ranging from death threats to prolonged bullying and stalking, can take on the private and professional lives of journalists. Targeted journalists in some cases exhibit symptoms of significant depression or post-traumatic stress syndrome. The decision of other journalists to turn to self-censorship as a coping mechanism – avoiding topics that provoke online rage – harbours serious dangers for the free flow of information necessary for democratic participation and governance.
IPI members called on states that engage in, foster or promote online attacks against journalists to urgently cease such actions as flagrant abuses of state power designed to intimidate perceived critics or opponents into silence and that risk instigating followers to commit physical harm against the targets.
Recalling that states bear the primary responsibility for guaranteeing journalist safety, IPI members also called on all states to take online attacks on journalists seriously, develop measures to counter them, and ensure that the perpetrators of such attacks are identified and punished according to the law. However, IPI members resolved that any such state measures must respect the fundamental right of freedom of expression and should not be used as an excuse to restrict forms of speech protected under international law, including speech that shocks, offends and disturbs.
Finally, acknowledging in some cases the limited reach of national justice systems, IPI members also called on media houses to improve internal measures capable of providing support to journalists who are the victims of online attacks. While stressing that the development and implementation of such measures must necessarily be proportionate to a particular media house’s resources, IPI members urged editors and publishers to consider implementing protocols for responding to and preventing cases of online attacks, which may include careful monitoring of online comment sections, the provision of psychosocial and legal support, staff training to raise awareness and knowledge, and public statements of solidarity and support for targeted journalists.
IPI General Assembly also noted that under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s rule, Turkey has experienced a dramatic downward slide in press freedom. Approximately 150 journalists are currently behind bars, mostly on unfounded, politically motived anti-terror charges. Over 180 media outlets have been forcibly closed since a July 2016 coup attempt that also prompted the government to usher in emergency powers it has since used to dismiss or detain hundreds of thousands of perceived critics and opponents.
In April 2018, 17 journalists and staff members with the secular daily Cumhuriyet, including IPI members Kadri Gürsel, Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık, were sentenced to prison for their critical reporting of the government following proceedings marred by flagrant violations of the right to a fair trial.
Expressing deep concern over the decline in respect for media freedom and human rights in Turkey and emphasizing Turkey’s obligations in particular under articles 6 (right to a fair trial) and 10 (right to freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights, IPI members called on whichever parties form the next Turkish government to commit to the following actions:
- Free all journalists imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression and drop all charges against them
- Promote freedom of the press, independent journalism and respect for the rule of law
- Cease using the ongoing state of emergency to justify attacks on the press
- Restore the impartiality of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial
- Take steps to repeal or reform in line with international standards laws that are currently being abused to prosecute and jail journalists, especially Turkey’s anti-terror and defamation laws
- Work to end economic pressure on independent media outlets through the manipulation of the public and private advertising markets as well as legal and tax harassment
Finally, IPI members called on Turkey’s international partners, especially its main trading partners in Europe, to press the next Turkish government to uphold its international obligations and to not remain silent in the face of serious human rights violations that, ultimately, contribute to economic and political instability in both Turkey and the wider region.