Authorities across East and Southern Africa escalated their attacks against journalists and press freedom across the region to suppress reporting of corruption and human rights violations throughout 2022, the Media Institute of Southern Africa and Amnesty International said today to mark World Press Freedom Day.
“There has been a worrying trend of attacks, harassment, intimidation and the criminalization of journalism across East and Southern Africa demonstrating the length to which authorities are prepared to go to silence the media for exposing allegations of corruption and human rights violations,” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“Journalists hold up a mirror to society. Targeting them simply for doing their work sends a wrong message that States are not prepared to uphold their human rights obligations and to be held accountable,” said Tabani Moyo, Regional Director for the Media Institute of Southern Africa.
In countries like Zimbabwe, the introduction of the new Cyber and Data Protection Act, which was enacted in December 2021, has been used to intimidate and harass journalists for doing their work and threatens to curtail media freedom further.
Freedom of expression under serious threat across the region
In Ethiopia, media freedom has come under significant attack, with authorities arresting at least 29 journalists and media workers across the country in 2022. The Tigrayan authorities charged five journalists with “collaboration with the enemy”. In May 2022, the police arrested Temesgen Desalegn, editor of Feteh magazine, and subsequently charged him with disclosing military secrets and spreading false rumours. He was released on bail of ETB 30,000 (about US$ 560) in November. In May 2022, the authorities also expelled Tom Gardner, a journalist working for The Economist newspaper based in Addis Ababa, following online harassment by government supporters about his reporting on Ethiopia.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, journalists were constantly threatened, intimidated, detained and sometimes even killed with impunity in the course of doing their work. The DRC ranked 149 out of 180 on the latest Press Freedom Index (with a 161/180 rank on the security indicator). In its report published in November 2022, the country’s leading journalists’ rights watchdog, Journalistes En Danger, reported 124 cases of attacks against journalists and media organizations last year alone. The cases included one journalist killed and two who were abducted. Another 37 journalists were arrested, while 18 others were physically assaulted and 17 media organizations or programmes shut down or suspended. A dozen of journalists are currently detained across the DRC, or with pending criminal proceedings in connection with their work.
In Malawi, police arrested Gregory Gondwe, an investigative journalist, in April 2022, for publishing a story alleging police corruption related to the procurement of water cannons, worth millions of US dollars. Gregory Gondwe was, in this instance, released without charge, but is still facing charges related to the illegal transmission of information online, under Section 91 of the Electronic Transaction and Cyber Security Act of 2016, which carries a fine of two million Malawian kwacha (about US$2,500) or imprisonment of up to five years if convicted.
In Mozambique, journalists deemed critical of the government were subjected to threats, harassment and intimidation. Two unidentified men handed a live bullet to Armando Nenane, a journalist and director of the Crónica Jurídica e Juduciária magazine in Maputo. The men claimed to be following orders from their superiors. The incident occurred after a court had cleared Armando Nenane of document forgery and defamation charges brought by the former Minister of Defence. After being cleared, Armando Nenane filed a defamation action against the former minister and members of the intelligence and counter-intelligence.
In Rwanda, journalists operate under the watchful eye of the authorities, often facing surveillance, harassment, intimidation and prosecution for their work. Amnesty International and other civil society organizations made repeated calls for an independent investigation into the death of John Williams Ntwali, a leading journalist, after his death in January 2023. John Williams Ntwali’s family was informed of his death on 19 January 2023, when police asked his brother to identify his body at the Kacyiru Hospital morgue and said that he had died in a motorbike accident in Kimihurura, Kigali in the early hours of 18 January. The car driver who reportedly confessed to causing the accident was convicted in a hasty trial without independent observers present. The lack of details given in the verdict – no precise location of the accident, no mention of video or photo evidence, vague details in the medical report – suggests that no effective investigation took place.
Another journalist, Theoneste Nsengimana, remains in unlawful detention in Rwanda following his arrest in October 2021 for “spreading rumours to cause unrest among the population”.
The Commonwealth Secretariat denied accreditation for the organization’s meeting taking place in Kigali last June to journalists Benedict Moran and Anjan Sundaram. They had published criticism of President Kagame and his government. The secretariat denied their decision was influenced by the host government and indicated that accreditation was denied because the two were not working for “recognised media outlets”.
In South Sudan, nine journalists covering a Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition press conference were briefly arrested by the National Security Service in June 2022 and had their equipment confiscated and audio recordings and photos deleted. The NSS was accused of censorship by the United Nations.
In Somalia, freedom of expression was severely restricted. Journalists were sometimes attacked by security forces and more regularly subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and prosecution. Nine journalists were injured and two media outlets temporarily suspended by the South West State authorities
In October, Somalia’s Ministry of Information issued a directive prohibiting the “dissemination of extremist ideologies from both traditional media broadcasts and social media”. Several media freedom advocates, including the Somali Journalists Syndicate’s secretary general, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, publicly expressed their concerns about its impact on media freedom and the safety of journalists. Abdalle Mumin was subsequently arrested and charged with several offences under the penal code including instigation to disobey laws. In February 2023, he was sentenced by a Banadir Regional Court to two months jail term for “disobeying government orders”. He was detained at the Mogadishu Central Prison for over a month and was released in late March.
In Tanzania, authorities continued to use repressive media laws to restrict media freedom. On 1 July, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) temporarily suspended DarMpya, an online media outlet, following what it regarded as “complaints… against DarMpya’s content”. The content related to demonstrations by indigenous Maasai people against Kenya’s role in the government’s plans to evict them from their land. In July, the Kenyan journalist Julius Kuyioni was arrested on 7 July on his way to Loliondo and charged with illegal entry in Tanzania. His arrest coincided with the authorities’ attempts to stop journalists covering the Maasai community’s protests against their eviction in Liliondo.
In Zimbabwe, journalists were targeted using a recently introduced cybercrimes law. Between August and September, three journalists became the first people to be arrested under the Cyber and Data Protection Act, which was enacted in December 2021.
Wisdom Mdzungairi, who was the editor-in-chief of Alpha Media Holdings and the editor of NewsDay newspaper, and Desmond Chingarande, a senior reporter at NewsDay, were summoned to Harare Central Police Station in August 2022.
They were questioned in connection with a story they had published on a business enterprise believed to be run by individuals with connections to the government. They were charged with transmitting “false data intending to cause harm” and released only after their lawyer assured officers that they would be available for further questioning when required.
Then on 29 September 2022, a freelance sports journalist, Hope Chizuzu, was arrested under the same law after board members of the Dynamos Football Club filed a complaint against him for reporting on the club. Hope Chizuzu’s mobile phone and iPad were confiscated and kept by the police for “further investigations”. He was released the same day after police issued him with a warning and told him that he would be summoned to appear in court.
In Burundi, journalist Floriane Irangabiye has been detained since August 2022. On 2 January 2023, she was convicted on the trumped-up charge of “undermining the integrity of the national territory” and sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine of one million Burundian francs (around USD 482). Her prosecution stems from the peaceful exercise of her human rights and for her work as a journalist. On 30 March 2023, the Court of Appeal of Mukaza in Bujumbura held a hearing on her appeal and has 30 days to issue its ruling.
Burundian law enforcement authorities shut down a press conference organized by civil society organizations Words and Actions for the Awakening of Consciences and the Evolution of Mentalities (PARCEM) and the Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (OLUCOME) in March 2022. During the conference, participants had denounced the Ministry of Interior’s measures banning bicycles, tricycles and motorcycles from Bujumbura city centre.
“Press freedom is fundamental to transparent societies. If authorities are committed to building human rights respecting societies and accountable governments, they must stop intimidating and harassing journalists,” Tabani Moyo, Regional Director for the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said.
“Without the press being able to freely report, to scrutinize and hold people in authority or positions of power to account, societies will be plunged into darkness. Authorities must stop targeting journalists and media organizations for doing their job.”
“Authorities must create a conducive environment which allows the press to work without repercussion, intimidation and imprisonment, for doing their job. Journalism should not be criminalized.” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.