Africa : Concern regarding freedom of expression in Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Gambia and Burundi

ARTICLE 19
May 5, 2015

article 19

ARTICLE 19 STATEMENTS DELIVERED AT ACHPR

Banjul: ARTICLE 19 highlighted issues on concern regarding freedom of expression in Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Gambia and Burundi during the 56th session of the Africa Commission of Human Rights (ACHPR), which ends on May 7, 2015 in Banjul, Gambia.

While appreciating that Ethiopia has submitted all its periodic reports and is happy to be held to scrutiny by the Africa Commission, ARTICLE 19 however noted that Ethiopia despite promises it had made in the Commission, still continues to flout its African Charter obligations especially Article 19 on right to free expression. It noted that the apparatus of censorship in Ethiopia is vast, and freedom of expression cannot be guaranteed. ARTICLE 19 also expressed disappointment at the unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly ahead of the coming elections.

“Ethiopia continues to deny that any journalists are in prison. It also refutes that there are no restrictions on freedom of Association, and peaceful assembly. The reality on the ground in Ethiopia is different. The Africa Commission needs to pressurise Ethiopia to end to all restrictions and practices which threaten fundamental rights contained in the African Charter, including in particular the freedom of expression” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.

In Uganda, ARTICLE 19 informed that Africa Commission that media practitioners, journalists, cartoonists, and activists face grave and pervasive systemic and legal challenges and are forced, especially those in the countryside, to carry out their work in an environment of widespread impunity and under constant pressure from the authorities. In 2014, 124 cases of violations against journalists were recorded, involving both State and non-state actors. “Despite passage of the Access to information regulations to aid the operationalization of the Act, government and most of its agencies and departments are still in the habit of concealing public information. The law on secrecy still exists on the statutes and has proved a big hindrance to full implementation of Access to Information law,” added Maina.

Djibouti presented its inaugural report to the ACHPR covering the period from 1993 to 2013. In its address, ARTICLE 19 pointed that since 2011, there has been an increase in the use of legal and extra-legal repression in the form of arrest, detention, malicious prosecution and torture of members of the opposition, reporters and activists. “These instances constitute clear violations of Djibouti’s regional and international human rights obligations; most notably of the right to freedom of expression and information, as well as the prohibitions on arbitrary detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” said Maina.

ARTICLE 19 drew the Commission’s attention to the deteriorating situation of human rights and freedom of expression in The Gambia, which hosts the ACHPR. It regretted that the Gambia government has not submitted its reports on the implementation of the African Charter with 10 reports being overdue. Furthermore, it has not received a single Commission’s promotional mission. “Despite the resolutions and recommendations of the ACHPR, widespread arbitrary arrests, persecution of journalists, dissidents and ordinary citizens is still perpetuated by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and other security units with total impunity and in most cases these violations are entrenched by a judiciary under the orders of the executive,” said Fatou Jagne, Director, ARTICLE 19 Senegal office.

In a joint statement, ARTICLE 19, Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and its membership of 35 civil society organisations in 22 African countries, raised concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Republic of Burundi. They called on the Commission to urge the Government of Burundi to respect its obligation under the African Charter by allowing people to express their rights to freedom of association, expression and information, reopen closed radio stations and refrain from use of excessive force against protesters against the President’s bid to vie for a third term in office.

“In all the countries we made interventions, we called upon the Commission to urge the Member States to ensure that all those who violate rights journalists are held accountable; amend their laws on defamation and secrecy; and invite the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression as a sign of their country’s commitment to promoting this right,”

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