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.


ARTICLE 19 trains Somali journalists in safety and security

On 5 March, ARTICLE 19, in collaboration with Somalia Independent Media Houses Association (SIMHA), ran a training workshop in Mogadishu for 22 Somali journalists on safety and security.The two-day workshop was aimed at making Somali journalists more aware of how to protect themselves in the course of their work. The workshop covered areas such as threat assessment, developing a security policy, information and communication technology-related threats and how to cover risky events such as riots and bomb blasts. The training was officially opened by the Somalia Minister for Information, Mustafa Ahmed Dhuhulow, who thanked ARTICLE 19 for organising the training.

African Commission adopts resolution calling for a free press in Somalia

On 14 March, the African Commission on Human & People’s Rights (ACHPR), Africa’s highest human rights body, adopted a resolution denouncing attacks on journalists and media practitioners in Somalia. The resolution, adopted at the ACHPR’s 15th extraordinary session between 7 and 14 March in Banjul, Gambia, denounced “the serious violations of the right to life and freedom of expression that continue to prevail in the Federal Republic of Somalia”. Among the resolution’s demands were a call for the Somalia authorities to respect, protect and promote the right to life, freedom of expression and freedom of association and the assembly of journalists and media practitioners as provided in the African Charter and other international and regional human rights instruments.


Journalists trained in new role

On 10 March, ARTICLE 19, in collaboration with the Media Council of Kenya, trained 15 journalists on their role as vanguards of Kenya’s devolution system of governance. The training, held in Mombasa, Kenya, was part of an ongoing training exercise also conducted in three other towns: Machakos, Nyeri and Kisumu. The journalists were trained on their role in ensuring access to information and citizen participation in Kenya’s governance process. The devolution system of government in Kenya is a new concept established after Kenya passed a new constitution in 2010.

Reporters barred from interviewing Ugandan education boss

On 19 March, Kenyan journalists were barred from interviewing Professor John Asibo, the executive director of the Ugandan National Council for Higher Education. The journalists were seeking clarification about the validity of Mombasa County governor Hassan Joho’s university certificates.

Asibo is the person who certified Mr Joho’s allegedly fake certificates from Kampala International University in Uganda. In December 2013, Asibo wrote a letter to the Ugandan Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department saying that the Ugandan National Commission on Higher Education had cleared Joho’s degree which had been issued by Kampala International University.

Asibo was in Kenya for the seventh conference of the Inter-University Council for East Africa. Media workers were barred from attending the conference after it emerged that they wanted to interview Asibo over Joho’s degree. Organisers of the event said that Asibo would not be allowed to speak to the media because that was not the purpose of his invitation to Kenya.


1000 days in prison for jailed Ethiopian journalist

16 March 2014 marked 1000 days since Ethiopian journalist Reyoot Alemu was jailed by the Ethiopian government. A columnist for several Amharic-language newspapers, Reeyot Alemu was one of the first journalists arrested in a 2011 government crackdown on dissidents in Addis Ababa. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison as a result of her newspaper columns in which she criticised the government’s record on corruption, its attacks on democracy and the rule of law and the effects of repression on the population. Her sentence was reduced to five years on appeal but she is now pursuing an international appeal against the reduced sentence at the African Human Rights Commission.


Journalist threatened

On 13 March, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition called for an end to the anonymous threats being sent to Christopher Kidanka, a Dar es Salaam-based journalist and human rights activist. Kidanka is also the editor and publisher of the monthly magazine Africa Tomorrow. He recently published an investigative story about those responsible for poaching in Tanzania and has been the object of threatening text messages and visits from strangers.

Media warned

On 15 March, the government of Tanzania warned the media that it will take stern measures against members of the media who mislead the public while covering Constituent Assembly (CA) meetings. Deputy Minister for Information, Youth, Culture and Sports, Mr Juma Nkamia, said that the nation’s welfare should be the main focus of both print and electronic media at this crucial time of writing the country’s constitution. He said that the government will take strong measures against journalists who write misleading articles. Media stakeholders see this as a threat to journalists who expose malpractice in the Constituent Assemblies.

African court makes landmark ruling on press freedom

On 31 March, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, sitting in Arusha, Tanzania, delivered a far-reaching decision in a case concerning the rights of journalists to practice their vocation free from intimidation or the fear of death. The court, which is Africa’s highest, was making its first ruling on such matters. It held that a government’s failure to diligently seek and bring to account those responsible for the assassination of a journalist had serious implications and should therefore not be allowed. Such failure intimidates the media, has a chilling effect on free expression, violates the human rights of journalists and endangers the truth. The case in question concerned Norbert Zongo, publisher and former editor of I’Indépendant in Burkina Faso, who was killed over 16 years ago. The Burkina Faso government had failed to prosecute Zongo’s killers, forcing the family to seek justice at Africa’s highest court.


Security guard convicted for assaulting journalist

On 18 March, a 26-year-old Ugandan security guard, Kemba Azizi, was sentenced to four years imprisonment for assaulting a Red Pepper journalist, Solomon Hamala. The security guard was charged with assaulting Hamala on 13 January 2014 as he was covering the story of women traders in Iganga who were protesting their proposed eviction from the taxi park by the Iganga Municipal Council. Kemba and another security guard, Isiko Yakubu who is now on the run, hit Hamala on the head with a baton and bicycle padlock before dragging him along the tarmac for more than twenty metres.

Uganda Press Freedom Index 2013 released

In early March, the Uganda Press Freedom Index 2013  was released with the Ugandan police force maintaining its position as the top violator of journalists’ rights for the third year running. In the newly released Press Freedom Index 2013, 124 cases of violations of journalists’ rights were recorded with the police force contributing to 85 of them. Police actions, including arrests, detentions, interrogations and the blocking of journalists from news scenes contributed to the majority of the violations. The report highlights the state of media freedom in Uganda based on cases investigated and documented by the Human Rights Network For Journalists.

Policeman and mob attack journalist

On 28 March, a mob of more than ten locals together with a police officer assaulted a Vision Group journalist, David Musisi. Musisi was covering a story about a disagreement over land ownership at Buziranjovu in the Mukono district. The police arbitrarily arrested and detained the journalist before releasing him without charge. The police officer implicated in the assault was subsequently arrested and detained.