ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa calls upon governments in the region to do more to protect freedom of expression as the world marks the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
“Threats of violence and attacks, particularly against journalists, engender fear among media professionals, preventing the free flow of information, ideas, and opinions among all individuals. This automatically trickles down to denying citizens access to information and infringing the right to information and freedom of expression,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
Journalists in Eastern Africa face a wide range of dangers, including kidnapping, torture, and physical attacks, as well as harassment from state and non-state actors.
In Kenya, more than 30 male and female journalists were arrested in 2021 while carrying out their duties.
Earlier this year, as part of its PROTECT work with partner organisations, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa reported on the situation for women journalists and activists. Women human rights defenders had reported being beaten, attacked and hospitalised for their work on gender violence. In one instance, a woman’s home was burned down.
Women journalists, including Beatrice Waithera Maina, Sarah Kimani and Patricia Ndango, have shone a spotlight on sexual gender-based violence, corruption, environmental concerns, and the gendered nature of the news in Kenya, among other issues.
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa conducted interviews with both activists and journalists that revealed that, as in many other parts of the world, women were routinely targeted by gendered violence and harassment fuelled by negative stereotypes. The research and surveys confirmed the generally negative attitudes towards the work that women journalists and human rights defenders do.
In Ethiopia, 2022 has been one of the toughest years for local journalists, as the hostility towards them has grown during the persisting civil war that has been going on for over 20 months. The war has been used by the government as justification to censor freedom of expression and access to information.
Since 4 November 2020, at least 63 Ethiopian journalists and media professionals have reportedly been detained. In May, 16 journalists were arrested as part of a renewed crackdown, accused of siding with rebels from the Amhara region. The arrests and intimidation were carried out in defiance of international standards of free expression. As of 1 August, 2022, at least eight of them are still in custody.
In Somalia, there have been nearly 40 cases of journalists’ rights being violated in 2022. Journalists organisations and free speech campaigners, including Reporters sans Frontieres, cite Somalia as the most dangerous country in Africa for journalists. Somalia is ranked 117 out of 161 countries in the 2022 Global Expression Report – ARTICLE 19’s annual review of the state of freedom of expression and the right to information around the world.
On 29 October 2022, Mohamed Isse Hassan was killed by a car bomb while covering a separate explosion in the capital Mogadishu, one of more than 100 people killed in these attacks. Although this is a very recent tragedy, it is unlikely that those responsible for this killing will face justice, as this has been the trend for journalists’ murders in recent years.
“The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists reminds us of the work that we need to do, to guarantee freedom of expression” added Mugambi Kiai.
Throughout 2022, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa has highlighted the specific work carried out in UN fora to promote freedom of expression in the region.
We welcome the recommendations submitted to the Rwandan government to improve its human rights situation by 99 UN Member States during the 37th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Specifically, ARTICLE 19 documented concerning levels of harassment and intimidation against the media, including raids of media houses and arrests and people forced into self-imposed exile. We urged the Rwandan government to cease harassment and intimidation of these actors and conduct impartial, independent and thorough investigations into all cases of attacks, with a view to bringing those responsible for these violations to justice.
On the Day to End Impunity day, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa calls upon governments to deal with impunity to strengthen protections for journalists across the East African region. We condemn all assaults and acts of violence against journalists and media professionals. We further urge Governments to take every effort to stop violence against journalists and media professionals, to ensure accountability, and to guarantee that victims have access to the proper remedies.
Kenya is ranked 68 out of 161 countries in the 2022 Global Expression Report, ARTICLE 19’s annual review of the state of freedom of expression and the right to information around the world.
Ethiopia is ranked 121, Rwanda is ranked 132, and Somalia is ranked 117.