Newsletter: Freedom of Expression in East Africa

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. Funding support has been provided by the European Union (EU): the content of the newsletter, however, does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the EU.


Journalist Attacked

On 1 April, angry demonstrators attacked a Television journalist, in the town of Baidoa, badly beating him. The demonstrators opposing the formation of a three member regional state attacked Ali Ilyas Abdullahi, the regional correspondent of Horncable Television after leaving his office on his way home. Mr. Abdullahi had been receiving threatening phone calls, including death threats, after he reported on the formation of the three region member state.

Media Worker Killed

On 21 April a media worker was killed at Bakaro market in Mogadishu Somalia by unknown men with pistols. Mohamed Omar Mohamed, who worked in the marketing department for  Dalsan Radio was shot dead by unknown gun men who fled the scene after the attack. The government promises to investigate the matter but no perpetrator has been arrested so far.

Newspaper Banned

On 7 April Somaliland police stormed the offices of Haatuf Newspaper and its sister publication Somaliland Times following the orders of the Hargeisa Regional Court, which had ordered the office to be closed for publishing “false” news. The journalists on duty inside the office fled the scene. Ahmed Ali Egge, the editor of Haatuf’s Somali-language version, said armed police raided the office as they were preparing the next day’s edition of the newspaper, forcing journalists to abandon their offices and flee. The two newspapers remain banned. On 20 April the Somaliland administration took further action, blocking access to Haatuf website.

Journalists Arrested

On 20 April Somaliland police arrested 3 journalists in Las Anod. The arrested journalists included Abdiqani Goox, a correspondent of a privately owned Somalisat Television based in London, and two freelancers Ali Yusuf Ahmed and Abdirashid Aideed. According to deputy police commissioner of Las-Anod, Ahmed Abdi Gelle, the journalists were arrested for attending a conference that “threatens peace and security of Somaliland”. The journalists were released after two days without any charges.


Journalists threatened

On 10 April a Standard Newspaper journalist based in Nakuru received threatening text messages following a story he filed a week earlier. Vincent Mabatuka recorded a statement at the Nakuru Central Police Station claiming he had been receiving numerous phone calls from unknown people threatening his life. On 5 April , the Standard on Saturday carried a story entitled cry for justice by distraught residents of Kimoriot and Tuyobei Settlement Scheme in Mochongoi, Baringo County, who had been attacked by youths who wanted to evict them.The story which was written by the journalist did not go down well with unidentified people in the area who started threatening the journalist, warning him of dire consequences should he continue writing on land issues in the area.


Newspaper Threatened

On 29 April the government of Tanzania threatened to shut down the weekly newspaper Mawio, for publishing a story on an ongoing debate about the union of Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania. The Managing Director of Victoria Media Services Limited, publishers of the weekly newspaper, Mawio, Mr. Simon Mkina expressed fears that the government plans to shut down his newspaper. The Tanzania’s Director of Information Services Mr. Assah Mwambene was quoted by local media outlets, including a government owned newspaper Habari Leo saying that the agency had given the editor of Mawio seven days to publish a correction after it carried a story titled ‘The Controversy of the Union Document”. The story touched on the debate on the union between the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar and mainland Tanzanian. The article claimed that the union document issued by the government to the public could have been a forgery.


Article 19 Staff Detained

On 3 April, Ethiopian immigration officials detained a member of staff from ARTICLE 19’s East Africa office for 29 hours, without access to legal advice or consular support. He was thereafter deported back to Kenya and warned that he would face jail if he returned. ARTICLE 19 was one of the last remaining international human rights organizations working in Ethiopia and providing independent information to the UN Human Rights Council. 

Bloggers Arrested

On 25 April, Ethiopian authorities arrested nine journalists and bloggers on allegations that they worked for foreign human rights groups or used social media to incite violence. The arrests came two days after Zone 9 – an independent collective of bloggers who use social media to campaign against political repression – announced their return to activism. Zone 9 had temporarily suspended activities following a period of heightened surveillance and harassment, and the timings of these arrests appear to be a direct attempt to silence their legitimate work and activism. The six bloggers include Atnaf Berahane, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Befeqadu Hailu, Zelalem Kiberet, Abel Wabela, and 3 journalists; Edom Kassaye, Tesfalem Weldeyes and Asmamaw Hailegorgis of Addis Guday magazine. They are being held at Maekelawi detention center in Addis Ababa. Two of those jailed, Edom Kassaye and Mahlet Fantahun, are women.


Cases of violations increasing

The month of April witnessed increased cases of crackdown on journalists. Cassien Ntamuhanga, the director of a Christian radio station, was arrested and accused of being a member and sympathizer of an opposition group and the FDLR rebels hell bent on overthrowing the government of Paul Kagame. The case is ongoing. Stanley Gatera, the editor of the independent newspaper Umusingi, was arrested on 17 April on charges of attempted extortion. He was in a café when an unknown individual approached him and slipped an envelope in his pocket, whereupon three plainclothes policemen immediately arrested him and took him to the police station. After holding him for six hours, the police escorted him to his home where a policeman told him there were plans to murder him and his family. The journalist fled the country the next day. He is currently in exile. Another journalist to flee this month is Eric Udahemuka, who left the country with his family a week before the ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. After being followed, threatened, attacked, robbed and subjected to other kinds of harassment since 2012, he fled fearing for his safety. He worked for Isimbi Newspaper.