Newsletter: Freedom of Expression in East Africa, July 2014

Newsletter: Freedom of Expression in East Africa, July 2014 - Civic Space

This monthly newsletter provides a snapshot of the current state of freedom of expression in Eastern Africa. It was compiled by ARTICLE 19 Kenya and Eastern Africa with the assistance of our partners in the respective countries.


Scriber Threatened

On 11 July, Nation Media Group reporter Abdi Malik was threatened by a member of Garissa’s County Cabinet over his reporting on the public perception of the Supreme Court judgment on Garissa Governor’s petition. After the journalist reported on the resident feelings over the judgment, he received phone calls threatening his life.


Newspaper Owner Released from Prison

On 13 July, the Somaliland government released Hatuf Newspaper owner Yusuf Abdi Gabobe from prison following a presidential pardon according to officials in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital.

Gabobe was sentenced to three years in prison by a court in Hargeisa late last month for accusations of spreading false information and publishing defamatory comments against Somaliland officials.

Journalist detained in Military Custody

On July 15, Adam Mohamed Karaama, a correspondent of the banned UK based Universal Television, was arrested by Somaliland military in the Sool region and taken into military custody.  

Somaliland authorities did not comment on the arrest of the journalist, but other journalists believe that he was arrested in connection with a published story that accused the Somaliland military of killing civilians outside Laas-Anod.

Jowhar radio closed

On 24 July, Radio Jowhar was closed down by the local administration led by Abdi Jiino Alasow, the governor of the middle Shabelle region. He ordered the closure of the station after the management of the Radio refused a request by the administration to influence the content of broadcasting regarding ongoing tribal clashes in the area. 

Puntland Parliament Approves Media Bill

On July 21, lawmakers in Somalia’s federal state of Puntland approved a controversial media bill drafted by the region’s Ministry of Information, prompting criticism from local media stakeholders. Speaker of the Puntland parliament Said Hassan Shire said 32 legislators voted in favour of the bill, one opposed and four abstained.

The Media Association of Puntland (MAP) denounced the bill, which it said gives excessive authority to the ministry. MAP particularly objected to the provision of the bill granting the ministry authority to issue Puntland journalists with identity cards. The bill will be sent to Puntland President Abdiweli Mohamed Ali for approval.

Journalists arrested

On 27 July, journalist Ahmed Adan Robleh, editor of Baligubadle Online Media, was arrested after officers at Hargeisa’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) summoned him.
Robleh was accused of “misreporting” and “spreading false information” with regard to the health of Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo. Baligubadle Online Media reported Silanyo is in London for medical treatment but officials denied this and termed his visit as “family visit”. Robleh had been summoned by the CID three weeks before, but let him go after intensive questioning.
On 27 July, Mohamed Aabi, the director of Universal TV, was arrested by police. The reasons behind his arrest and detention were not given, but journalists and his co-workers believe that Mohammed was arrested because of an entertainment programme recorded in Hargeisa that was broadcasted by Universal TV, which has been banned from operating in the Somaliland territory since February.

On 28 July, Mr. Abdullahi Muse, a Radio Mogadishu journalist, was arrested after he uploaded a clip of himself complaining about going nine months without salary on YouTube. He blamed the government-owned radio station for violating his rights by not paying him his salary for the last nine months.

Journalist survives car explosion

On 28 July, journalist Mohamed Abdullahi Haji survived a car explosion. The car was parked near the Waberi Police station and later exploded, by what was believed to have been a remotely detonated device. However, the journalist was not in the car at the time of the explosion.


Campaign to Decriminalize Freedom of Expression

On 8-9 July: A two-day consultative meeting on the decriminalization of laws limiting freedom of expression in Tanzania climaxed with resolutions to start the campaign immediately. The meeting, which was spearheaded by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, was organized by ARTICLE 19 and supported by the World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA), Media Institute of Southern Africa Tanzania (MISA-Tanzania), and the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. The agenda of the meeting was to kick-off an organisational and planning event for an advocacy campaign on repealing these laws in the country.

Newspaper faces 2 Billion TZS Defamation Litigation

On 21 July, Mawio Newspaper and its journalist Jabir Idrissa were sued for 2 billion Tanzanian Shillings (USD $1, 205,200) in damages for allegedly publishing defamatory statements against Peter Keasi, the managing director of AP Media and Consultant Limited. Through his advocate, Alloyce Komba of Haki Kwanza Advocates, Mr. Keasi filed the suit at the High Court in Dar es Salaam last week. The claimed amount include 1 billion TZS (USD $602,600) as general compensatory damages, 500m TZD (USD $301,300) as exemplary or punitive damages and another 500m TZS (USD $301, 300) as aggravated damages.

The article complained about was published in the newspaper’s 0098 issue on June 5-11 this year, with the heading “CCM kutumia billion 3.4 kujitangaza.”, literally meaning that “CCM has a budget of 3.4 billion TZS (USD $2,048, 840) for media publicity.”

According to the plaintiff of the suit, the article in question was written by Mr. Idrissa and edited by the editor; it alleged that the deal had been awarded to Keasi through his company AP Media and Consultant Limited by CCM for publicity services for its 38th Anniversary in February next year. Keasi alleged that the article implied that he was a swindler of the ruling political party’s money and he does not care about the affairs of the poor people.

Journalists Intimidated

On July 24, Police in Dar es Salaam summoned Jesse Kwayu, the Managing Editor of Swahili daily Newspaper NIPASHE, and Kiondo Mshana, the managing director of Guardian Limited, for questioning over stories that linked the local patrol police on motorcycles to corruption.

Kiondo produced a letter written and signed by a senior Superintendent of Police Mr. Amani Makanyaga, reference number DSMZ/CID/B.1/VOLXX/128 of July 21 2014, which ordered them to report to the police station for questioning. However, in a strange twist of events, the head of Criminal Investigation in Dar es Salaam Special Zone Jafari Ibrahimu disowned the police summons and the letter when the duo arrived at the central police office to be interviewed.

Ibrahimu said his office had no information about the summons to the two editors, adding that the police had not complained about any story. Instead, Ibrahimu addressed a press conference at the station where he disowned the summons and apologized over the matter.  The summons had created panic and fear within the media fraternity in Dar es Salaam, which made a huge team of journalists gather at the police station in solidarity with the two editors as they reported for the grilling by the police.


Bloggers and Journalists charged

On 17 July, three journalists (Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis and Edom Kassaye) and six other bloggers and members of Zone 9 (Soliana Shimeles (in absentia), Natnael Feleke, Befekadu Hailu, Mahlet Fantahun, Atnafu Birhane, Zelalem Kibret and Abel Wabela) who were suspected of acts of terrorism and spent more than two months in Meakelawi were charged by the prosecutor with acts of terrorism and transferred to Kality.

The charge presented to the newly formed 19th criminal bench of the Federal High Court by the federal prosecutor stated that the suspects participated in acts of terrorism and secretly organized to destabilize the country. The charge further alleged that the suspects prepared a short-term and long-term plan to destabilize the country, and worked and received commands from the organizations outlawed by the Ethiopian parliament such as Ginbot 7 and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) starting from 2 May 2012 until they were caught by the police.

Photo journalist arrested

On July 18 2014, photo journalist Aziza Mohammed, who has worked for Guday magazine for the last three years, was arrested in Anwar mosque while covering a protest held by the Muslim community.  She is still in custody and has not been charged.


Police drag journalists’ leader to court over ‘obstruction’

In July, Mulindwa Mukasa, board chairperson of the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, was granted a cash bail in a case where he is allegedly accused of obstructing a police officer from arresting a suspect. The case was brought against him by the Wandegeya Police Station Commander, Julius Caesar Tusingwire. Mulindwa denied the charges, which are contrary to Section 238(B) of the Penal Code Act. However, Tusingwire, who was not present in court, did not name the said suspect.

This comes just 20 days after Mulindwa Mukasa dragged Tusingwire to the High Court over inhumane and degrading  treatment, a case which is due to come up on 9 September 2014 before Justice Lydia Mugambe, in which he prayed to the court to dismiss Tusingwire from the police force. He has vowed not to abandon the case.

Journalist assaulted as another survives gun shot

On 23 July, an armed policeman in Hoima assaulted Geoffrey Tumwesigye, a journalist working for Bunyoro television and Liberty radio, accusing him of recording a scuffle between policemen and angry butchers at Hoima Central market in Western Uganda. Another journalist, Vincent Arinaitwe of Liberty FM radio, claimed that he was shot at as he was covering the same incident, but survived narrowly.

The journalists told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that the police officers were engaged in a scuffle with the local butchers who were protesting against the newly introduced levies and regulations by the Hoima Municipal Council authorities.

The officer in charge of Hoima Police Station, Magombe Ismail, could not give details on the case. However, Tumwesigye opened up an assault case against the implicated police officer. He has since presented two witnesses to support his case.

Journalist attacked

In July, Margaret Kayondo, a news correspondent for Radio Simba in the South Buganda Sub region, was harassed and roughed up by a mob as she covered a court session for the trial of Ponsiano Rwakataka, a rally driver facing charges of illegal fish dealing.  Kayondo and other journalists in the area were accused of “exaggerating Rwakataka’s case”. The bitter mob charged at Kayondo, but she was saved by the local police at court and other prison warders. Rwakataka is facing charges of illegal fish dealing among others and is being remanded at Kalisizi prison. However, his fans have since warned journalists against continued reporting of Rwakataka’s trial.

South Sudan

Bahr El Ghazal Scribes under Fire over Security Reports

In July, the government of South Sudan’s Northern Bahr el Ghazal state vowed to arrest journalists who report on security issues, imposing censorship on media houses in the region.

The move came days after the caretaker governor, Kuel Aguer Kuel, allegedly ordered the closure of a community radio operating in its capital, Awiel, for interviewing a state legislative assembly member whose on air views were considered critical.

A journalist working for the closed radio told the Sudan Tribune that the caretaker governor instructed security personnel to hunt down all reporters working for the station.