A Dark Month For African Journalists’ Safety And Media Freedom

It was a grim month on the African continent with the death of five journalists in Chad, Kenya and Somalia.
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Photos: Twitter\YouTube

It was a grim month on the African continent with the death of five journalists in Chad, Kenya and Somalia.

These deaths took place just a month before media freedom advocates from across the globe were gearing up to meet in Vienna, Austria, to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI) and commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the United Nations Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (UNPA).

Sadly, Somalia’s reputation for being one of the riskiest places for media remains intact, as two journalists were killed within the space of a month and several others harassed with arbitrary arrests and detentions.

It began with the death of Somali National Television (SNTV) journalist and camera operator Ahmed Mohamed Shukur, who was killed by a landmine explosion, while he was covering a counter-terrorist operation by security forces on 30 September.

Four weeks later, in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the country in five years, two car bombs exploded at Somalia’s education ministry next to a busy market intersection, killing at least 121 people and wounding 333 more. As Universal Somali TV journalist Mohamed Isse Koonaa was reporting on the first explosion, a second blast took his life and those of dozens of others. Reuters photojournalist, Feisal Omar and M24TVand Voice of America freelancer, Abdukadir Mohamed Abdulle were seriously injured in the same incident.

In addition to coping with reporting from a country prone to lethal militant attacks, as well as retaliatory measures by Al Shabaab, Somalia’s media has to contend with restrictive policies, arbitrary arrests, and prolonged detentions.

A recent directive issued by the government in their attempt to fight militant attacks offline and online contains a blanket ban and suspension on what it describes as “dissemination of extremist and terrorist ideology.”

Concerned organisations held a joint press conference, during which they issued a statement describing the policy “as a “vaguely-worded directive”, which “might be used to silence the legitimate critics of the government and its security forces including journalists, human rights defenders, independent researchers, analysts and others.”

On 10 October, just two days after the press conference, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the founder and secretary general of the Somali Journalists Syndicate, was arrested at Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport. He was granted bail on 16 October, only to be arrested two days later, while he was on his way to seek medical treatment in Kenya. He was then granted bail for a second time, but has been blocked from leaving the country.

Aside from the persecution of Mumin, Galmudug police in Southern Galkayo detained journalist Sadaq Said Nur, and intelligence officers arbitrarily detained Horn Cable TV journalist and SJS press freedom coordinator Abdullahi Hussein Kilas, in the port city of Kismayo. Both reporters were asked to remove news stories the authorities objected to. Another Horn Cable TV reporter, Farhan Abdi Isse, was arrested after he covered a news conference by opposition party members of Waddani, who called for the Somaliland government to recognize Gabiley as a region instead of a town.

In Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Somaliland, the government ordered the shutdown of private broadcaster CBA TV, on questionable grounds. The broadcaster, which covers news and analysis about the Horn of Africa region, refuted authorities’ claims that it was operating under an expired licence and aired content that threatened the peace of the region. Hussein Jama Haji Hasan, the director general of CBA TV, said that its reporting is balanced; that the permits allowing it to operate, issued in 2018 by the ministry of information and attorney general’s offices, do not expire; and that it has complied with local tax requirements.
Journalist shot while covering protests

The precarious political and security situation in Chad, which in turn puts media workers at risk, was brought to the fore with the death of radio journalist Orédjé Narcisse.

Defying a government ban issued on 9 October, protestors took to the streets on 20 October, marking the 18-month anniversary of a takeover by military leader Mahamat Déby, the son of former head of state Idris Déby who was shot and killed in 2021 during clashes with rebels in the north of the country. Citizens were protesting the postponement of the proposed handover of power to a civilian government and the rescheduling of elections to 2024.

The International Federation for Journalists (IFJ) reported that Narcisse “was shot while covering a protest in the capital N’Djamena … when Chadian armed forces opened fire on protesters.”

According to a press release issued by the Office of the Commission for Human Rights: “UN and African Union independent experts today condemned the lethal repression of peaceful protests over Chad’s extended political transition period and called for de-escalation of tensions.”

Police inconsistencies fuel speculation over Pakistani journalist’s death

Kenyan investigative journalist John Allan Namu says misinformation and disinformation about the death of prominent Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif has been fuelled by gaping holes and inconsistencies in police statements around the fatal shooting.

The news of Sharif’s death reverberated across both countries, shocking both Kenyans and Pakistanis. Amidst the political storm that erupted in Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif appointed a three-member commission of inquiry to investigate the murder.

Sharif was not only the popular host of the programme “Power Play” on Pakistan’s TV channel ARY News, but also a strong supporter of former prime minister Imran Khan and an outspoken critic of the current government.

The initial report of the fatal shooting of Sharif – at a roadblock in Nairobi – was described by the police as an “accident” and a case of “mistaken identity”. Global Voices reports that this has raised more questions than answers.
Museveni assents to controversial amendment bill

A month after Uganda’s legislature passed the controversial Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, President Yoweri Museveni has signed it into law, despite submissions from numerous civil society organisations around the contentious clauses. “Rights groups and a section of online communities are worried the law might be abused by regimes, especially the current one, to limit free speech and punish persons that criticize the government,” reports CIPESA.
Regional media organisations rally CSOs

Responding to the growing decline in media freedom, freedom of expression, and digital rights in their respective regions, the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the Media Foundation for West Africa each held conferences in October to address these critical issues, while building stronger alliances.

MISA-Regional’s Spaces of Solidarity meeting brought together regional partners from neighbouring countries, who resolved, among many other things, to “develop a new support mechanism for collaborative campaign work on the basis of the Spaces of Solidarity meeting to highlight attacks on free speech and media freedom.”

MFWA’s Press Freedom and Democratic Recession in West Africa conference brought together representatives of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, media freedom advocates, and governance experts to discuss increased violations of freedom of expression and press freedom.

Delegates ended the two-day meeting with a commitment to “engaging, collaborating, and supporting ECOWAS to mainstream issues of press freedom in its democratic governance interventions” and agreed that “ECOWAS must work closely with the media to roll out a comprehensive strategy to curtail the recession.”
Work on Nigeria’s Freedom of Information Act recognized

In recognition of its body of work around implementing Nigeria’s access to information law, Media Rights Agenda was honoured with an award for its “contribution to journalism through over two decades of work advancing the use of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act for public interest reporting.” The award was presented by the Africa Centre for Development Journalism (ACDJ) during the inaugural World Development Information Day Lecture, on 22 October.

In brief

Angola: Last month, Ludmila Pinto, the wife of Angolan opposition broadcaster Claudio Pinto, was savagely attacked by two masked men, who broke into their home. The two men also threatened to kill their one-year-old son. She says that she overheard them saying her husband was “close to the boss,” “knows a lot,” and that they might need to “finish the job if he doesn’t shut up,” reports CPJ.

Also in Angola: Borralho Ndomba was harassed and arrested by Angolan police while covering a students’ protest, despite wearing a vest that clearly identified him as a journalist.

Guinea: Journalists belonging to the Guinean Union of Press Professionals (Syndicat des Professionnels de la Presse de Guinée, SPPG) were stopped from staging their sit-in, a protest against restrictive decisions being made by the country’s regulatory body – the High Authority for Communication (HAC).

Central African Republic: An alarming decline in the media landscape in the country, including a wave of arrests, physical attacks and threats against journalists, has been further aggravated by a proposed bill that could criminalise journalism.

Zimbabwe: As the country draws closer to the 2023 elections, privately owned media are bearing the brunt of increasing intolerance, with numerous instances of journalists being prevented from reporting on state and ruling party events.

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