This monthly bulletin provides a snapshot of the status of Freedom of Expression in Eastern Africa. It is compiled by ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa with the assistance of its partners in their respective countries.
March 3: William Davison, correspondent with Bloomberg, and Jacey Fortin, freelance journalist,along with a translator whom they had hired, were arrested and detained by Ethiopian federal police near the eastern town of Awash. Their phones and identification cards were confiscated before they were escorted back to Addis Ababa, where they spent the night in a police cell. Police released both journalists and translator without charges the following day.
March 10: Solomon Kebede, managing editor of Ethiopian paper Ye Muslimoch Guday (now defunct), was sentenced to prison,having already spent more than three years incarcerated on terrorism charges. It was not immediately clear for long his imprisonment wouldlast, but reports now indicated that Kabede was sentenced to three years and 11 months.
March 2: Martha Wanjiru Miano, was arrested and arraigned for posting allegations on Facebook that Governor Nderitu Gachagua’s brother, Rigathi Gachagua, had taken control of Mathira water community project by procuring and financing hired thugs and a local Member of County A. Miano had allegedly thus committed the offence of posting ‘annoyance messages’ – an offence under the Kenya Information and Communication (KICA) Act. The government has continued to use it to punish bloggers in the country on Facebook on December 29 2015, a crime under 29 of the Kenya Information and Communication (KICA) Act; chapter 411 of the laws of Kenya. She appeared before Principal Magistrate Desiderius Orimba where she denied all the charges. She was later released after the court established that her arrest was unprocedural.
March 8: John Lenkulate, human rights activist, appeared before a magistrate’s court over Facebookposts regarding Samburu County Governor, Moses Lenolkulal: the activist was charged with abuse of social media under section 29 of the Information and Communication (KICA) Act regarding ‘improper use of a licensed telecommunication system’. He is alleged to have posted the comments “knowing them to be false and intended to cause annoyance to the Samburu County governor.” On March 29 Lenkulate was arrested and locked up when he went for his case mention at Maralal court.
March 15: Timothy Chemno,reporter with Kass FM, was threatened by ElgeyoMarakwet Governor, Alex Tolgos over what Tolgos alleged that the journalist was constantly focusing only on negative stories in his County. In an audio-recording by the journalists,sent to ARTICLE19, the governor is heard alleging that the journalist had become a social “activist”. The governor said, “you do your work but we are watching you closely…”
March 22: Charles Lwanga, correspondent for Mombasa-based Nation Media Group,was threatened by Ganze Member of Parliament, Peter Shehe, following the publication of a story implicating the legislator in the disappearance of Sh5 million Constituency Development Fund in cash. He said the MP telephoned him twice after the story appeared in the Daily Nation on March 17 under the headline, ‘lawmaker charged afresh with loss of CDF’s Sh5m’ .On March 17, 2016, Lwanga said the legislator, who at first did not identify himself said “Are you the one who wrote false information in newspapers to taint my image? Are you not that journalist from Nation Media who has written a false story to taint me?” Lwanga recorded a statement with the police in Malindi after receiving threats fromShehe.
March 23: Allan WadiOkengowas charged for a second time with incitement to violence. It is alleged that he incited people to violence in a Facebook post. Wadi made a comment regarding the request on March 10 by the national government to Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho to return three firearms in his possession. Wadiwas given a sh50, 000 cash bail, which he was unable to pay,and was placed in prison. The case will be heard on April 22.
Wadi was first arrested and charged with similar offences in January 2015. He was sentenced for two years for posting hate messages under Section 13 and 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration (NCIC) Act 2008, which criminalises hate speech, racial and ethnic contempt on Facebook. He was given one year each for hate speech and undermining the authority of a public officer, over comments made on Facebook. He was released eight months into serving his sentence.
March 30: Parliamentary Committee on Broadcasting and Library suggested amendments to standing orders regarding media activities in the precincts of Parliament. The proposals, if adopted, would mean that requests to conduct media related activity would be handled by the Speaker of the Senate, or the Speaker of the National Assembly.
Parliamentary reporters are currently accredited by the Media Relations Office, who issue photo identity cards and grant access to the precincts of Parliament for the purposes of covering interviews and committee meetings. However, the new proposals would remove this mandate, and place it with the Speaker of the Senate or National Assembly. The proposals furthermore suggest that the Speakers themselves should ensure that media activities comply with standing orders, and that media activities serve an educational, cultural, or news purpose.
Under the proposals, cameramen and photographers would be required to report to the head of security before they could take photographs or videos, as well as requiring the prior permission of the person they are filming or photographing.
Violation of the new restrictions could result in denial of access during a sitting day, suspension of an individual’s pass for a day, denial of access to the press gallery for three days for a media house or any other penalty the Speaker may deem fit. Repeated violations could result in a one-month suspension for the media house or suspension of the individual’s pass for the same period
March 3: A Mogadishu military court found Hassan Hanafi, former journalist, guilty of involvement in the killing of five journalists on behalf of the armed militant group Al-Shabaab. The court found him guilty of being, either partly or directly, responsible for the killings of Mahad Ahmed Elmi, director of Capital Voice radio, a private station run by HornAfrik Media; Ali Iimaan Sharmarke, the founder and co-owner of HornAfrik Media; Said Tahliil Ahmed, director of HornAfrik for TV and radio stations; Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe, a reporter for Radio Shabelle; and Sheikh Nur Mohamed Abkey of Radio Mogadishu the only murder to which Hanafi confessed. The murders happened between 2007 and 2010.
Hanafi was sentenced to death by execution, which in Somalia is usually carried out by firing squad.
Previously before joining Al Shabaab, Hanafi worked as a radio reporter at Holy Quran Radio and later as a reporter for Radio Andalus, a mouthpiece for the militant group, before joining its armed wing.The court heard that he regularly called Somali journalists to threaten them with death if they refused to join the militant group.
March 20: A military court in Mogadishu upheld sentences for six people convicted in connection with the December 2015 murder of Somali broadcast journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed. The defendants appealed the original ruling, but the military court fully upheld the verdicts and sentences, first announced on February 25. Two of the six men whose convictions were upheld, Hassan Nur Ali Farah and Abdirisack Mohamed Barrow, were sentenced to death.
Four others were sentenced for their roles as co-conspirators in the murder: Mo’allin Mohmed Abukar Ali and Mo’alin Mohamed Sheikh Yusuf were each sentenced to life in prison; Ali Hassan Aden Tooni and Muheyadin Osman Mohamed Awale were sentenced to 15 and 10 years in prison, respectively. Hindia was a journalist for the state-run broadcasters Radio Mogadishu and Somali National TV. She was killed by a bomb which had been planted under the seat of her car, detonated by remote control.
March 24: Attorney General of semi-autonomous republic of Somaliland issued an order to immediately cease the publication of daily newspaper Codka Shacabka (The Voice of the People). The Attorney General’s office claimed that the newspaper had not been properly registered after it was taken over by new owners a few weeks ago, who are a group of journalists, who are known to be critical of the government, but are not affiliated with any political party. It is speculated that this is part of a government plan to curtail the activities of the newspaper.
According to reports the office of the attorney, which is responsible for issuing licenses to newspaper owners, also cited registration violations when ordering the privately owned newspapers, Hubsad and XogOgaal, to close in recent months.
March 4: Joseph Afandi, was abducted and tortured just two weeks after his release from prison on February 19. Afandi was editor at the daily El Tabeer before National Security Service agents arrested him in Juba on December 30, 2015, before ordering the publication’s employees to stop publishing the newspaper. Afandiwas detained without charge for nearly two months: reasons for his detention were unclear, though reports indicated El Tabeer newspaper had written an article critical of the ruling party – Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.
According to reports Afandi was abducted by unidentified men in a white vehicle with tinted windows and no number plate. He was found badly beaten and burned near a cemetery in the capital, Juba, four days later, with serious leg injuries caused by burning plastic, and was later hopitalised.
March 18: Salma Said, reporter with the Kiswahili-language Mwananchi and a correspondent for Deutsche Welle – Germany’s international broadcaster, was abducted by unknown individuals shortly after the journalist arrived at Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport on theway to Zanzibar to cover an election. Said was found two days later on March 20. Said had expressed concerns for her safety after she received threatening phone calls and text messages from anonymous callers previously.
According to reports Said’s abductors were particularly unhappy with her reporting on militias, widely suspected to be aligned with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, which had attacked opposition supporters. According to reports, Said described having been “confined into a room, where they brutally kicked and beat me to the point where I was weary and faintly breathing. They would leave the room, only to come back and do the same over again. I suffered crude blows all over my body, the pain was severe, and I had to stay calm and do as they please.”
The journalist said her captors had been silent for much of the time she was held, but that they told her “that they [did not] want [her] reporting on the ongoing elections in Zanzibar.”
March 1: Remmy Bahati and Badebye Godfrey, journalists for NBS Television were arrested by the Uganda Police Force as they covered live events at the road leading to the home of opposition politician and former presidential candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye.
Dr. Kizza Besigye is still under house arrest at his home at Kasangati. Godfrey, Bahati’s cameraman was injured when hit by police. Ingird Turinawe, an official of Forum for Democratic Change, was also arrested and allegedly stripped naked by the officers for protesting Bahati’s arrest.
Four police officers and men in civilian clothes chased after and arrested Bahati as she continued to relaythe eventslive. She was arrested and manhandled before being pushed into a police van. She was detained at Kasangati police station for sometime before she was released without charge, she was however warned, together with other journalists, by Police Director of Human Resource, Andrew Felix Kaweesi, not to continue camping at the road heading to Besigye’s home.
March 4: Seven journalists, Ssebalamu Kigongo of Bukedde television, Diana Kibuuka and Kakooza George William, both of CBS radio, Ssempijja Godfrey of Bukedde Newspaper, Ssebaggala Sunday of NBS television, Mugganga Evie of Radio One and Shanitah Nabwabye of Pearl of Africa radio were attacked by supporters of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM),who also destroyed their gadgets and deleted material from the cameras. The journalists were covering elections for special interest groups at Entebbe in Wakiso district at the Mayor’s Gardens. The journalists implicated the president’s protection force –the Special Forces Command (SFC) in the attack.
March 23: Judith Naluggwa of Bukedde TV was punched in the lower abdomen at the registry of the Anti-Corruption Court in Kololo, Kampala by Abraham James Byandala, Minister without Portfolio, who is on trial for alleged corruption.