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#ZimbabweanLivesMatter traverses globe, Kenyans choking under police brutality, and Sierra Leone repeals criminal defamation law (Demo)

#ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign shines global spotlight on government crackdown 

The #ZimbabweanLivesMatter campaign is traversing the globewinning support from celebrities, activists, dignitaries and diasporans on the African continent and across the world.

While it was the arrests of high-profile individuals – such as activist/journalist Hopewell Chino’no, opposition spokesperson and advocate Fadzayi Mahere and celebrated author Tsitsi Dangarembga – that initially put the Zimbabwe situation on the global centre stage, the ensuing hashtag crusade provided a platform for the myriad of issues besieging Zimbabweans.

The ongoing campaign has focused global attention on how Zimbabwean authorities have ramped up their clampdown on all forms of expression and the continued attacks, assaults, arrests and abductions of activists, opposition members, media professionals and citizens.

Mounting pressure from the momentum of the online activism pushed South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to send an envoy to Zimbabwe, and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Moussa Faki Mahamat, to finally issue a statement “encouraging the government of Zimbabwe to uphold the rule of law allowing for freedom of the media, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and the right to information.”

Feeling the pressure of the online activism, the Zimbabwe government is considering taking action to muzzle similar types of campaigns and has announced: “legislation and a code of conduct will be put in place to regulate the operations and conduct of all political parties… and campaigning against one’s country shall be legislated at law and criminalised.”

The onslaught on the media was contextualised by Tabani Moyo, executive director of the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa in his statement to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

He highlighted the upsurge in the number of journalists being attacked, harassed, intimidated, assaulted and detained, as well as the stalling of efforts to bring media laws into alignment with constitutional guarantees of media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information. Moyo pointed out that the state was to introduce a cybersecurity and data protection bill that in its present form institutionalises state surveillance and he also protested the false impression being given that Zimbabwe was opening up its airwaves, pointing out that the broadcasting space continues to be restricted.

Kenyans choking under police brutality

Kenyans marking the 30 year anniversary of the Saba Saba movement on 7 July, were teargassed and arrested while participating in a March for Our Lives protest in Nairobi.

Inspired by the message of the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, demonstrators from three grassroots organisations held placards stating “I Can’t Breathe,” “Never Again,” and “Stop Killer Cops” while marching peacefully through the streets of Nairobi to highlight police brutality against citizens.

Several human rights defenders from the informal settlements of Mathare, Kayole, Kibera, Dandora, Kariobangi and Korogocho were arrested along with well-known activists Editar Ochieng and Wilfred Olal of the Mathare Social Justice Centre. Prominent lawyer John Khaminwa accompanied human rights activists George Kegoro and Florence Kanyua to Kilimani Police Station to ensure the release of the protesters.

Kenya’s police service, which has a long history of using excessive force, came under heavy criticism during the early days of enforcement of Kenya’s COVID-19 dusk-to-dawn curfew restrictions, when 13-year-old Yasin Moyo was shot and killed. Human Rights Watch reported how the police “shot and beat people at markets or returning home from work, even before the daily start of the curfew.” HRW also reported that police were extorting money from residents and looting food from vendors and outlets. 

Sierra Leone repeals criminal libel law

The unanimous decision by Sierra Leone’s Parliament to repeal a section of the Public Order Act of 1965 which criminalised libel and sedition has been welcomed by many journalists and freedom of expression advocates.

In a statement, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) commended President Julius Maada Bio for providing the political will, Minister of Information and Communications Mohamed Rahman Swarray for driving the process and the country’s parliament for “fulfilling their obligation and ensuring the achievement of this huge milestone in freedom of expression and democracy in Sierra Leone”.

SLAJ president Ahmed Sahid Nasralla added that the move had given “the media sector greater freedom to do their work without fear or favour.”

The now-repealed law had a long history of being used to suppress freedom of expression, with a report in the Mail & Guardian noting that: “for over 55 years, the criminal libel law was used by regimes to target, intimidate, harass and imprison journalists and suppress dissent.”

The fight to repeal the libel law goes back over a decade, when the SLAJ, with the support of regional press freedom organisations, challenged its constitutionality in a case that was ultimately thrown out of the Supreme Court, much to the consternation of media freedom advocates.

Not everyone is a supporter of the repeal. Interestingly, Dr. Sylvia Blyden, a journalist and former welfare minister who faces charges of seditious libel and publication of false news under the law, does not see its repeal as a step in the right direction.

In an interview with Inter Press Service, Dr. Blyden pointed to protective caveats in the legislation, adding that the importance of criminal libel laws goes beyond the practice of journalism and politics.

Inter Press Service also report that the IMC Act 2020, which is intended to replace the repealed libel legislation, has come under fire from critics who fear it may give the Sierra Leone government the power to shut down media houses and prevent journalists from practicing their profession.

Journalists murdered in Nigeria and South Sudan

The grim news of the deaths of two journalists within weeks of each other in South Sudan and Nigeria, attracted little notice, possibly because of the scant information on the details and motives for their murders.

27-year-old South Sudanese journalist Marko Agei Makoor was killed in early July while on his way to work in Tonj. The Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) described the murder as “a tragic act of terror” and called on authorities to immediately conduct a thorough investigation to apprehend the perpetrators.

Nigerian journalist Benjamin Ekom was shot and killed outside his home in Washo village in Nasarawa State. Ekom was the former treasurer of the Nasarawa State Council of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, which condemned the killing and urged security agencies to identify those responsible.

Sierra Leonean Jamesina Essie King appointed ACHPR Special Rapporteur

Commissioner Jamesina Essie King was appointed Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and country rapporteur for Eritrea, Namibia, Somalia, The Gambia, and Zimbabwe, during the 28th extra-ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) from 29 June to 1 July.

Fatou Jagne Senghore, regional director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa, thanked outgoing Special Rapporteur Lawrence Mute for his work on the revision of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, while stressing her organisation’s commitment to working with Commissioner King on “ensuring the realisation of free speech and access to information across the continent.”

King is the first Sierra Leonean woman to be sworn in as a Commissioner of the ACHPR. In 2006 she was selected to serve on the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone and was appointed its first chairperson in 2007.

She took the oath of office at the ACHPR in November 2015, where she serves as chairperson of the working group on Economic Social and Cultural Rights in Africa, and chairperson of the Committee on Resolutions. She is also a member of ACHPR working groups on Extractive Industries, the Environment and Human Rights Violations and Indigenous Communities/Populations in Africa.

ECOWAS Court of Justice orders Nigeria to amend or repeal cyber law

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice handed down yet another judgement with a decisive impact on advocacy efforts around freedom of expression.

The ruling orders Nigeria to either repeal or amend its law on cybercrime in order to align with the country’s obligations under Article 1 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Presiding Justice Januaria Moreira Costa held that through the adoption of Section 24 of the 2015 Cybercrime Act, the Nigerian government was liable for the violation of the right to freedom of expression. The case was taken to the ECOWAS Court by The Incorporated Trustees of Laws and Rights Awareness Initiative of Nigeria. 

Ethiopia’s protests a reflection of serious underlying issues

In Ethiopia, a wave of violent protests rippled through Addis Ababa and parts of Oromia in the wake of the assassination of celebrated musician and activist Hachalu Hundessa on 29 June.

An analysis by Global Voices into the reasons behind Hundessa’s murder and the ensuing violence spotlighted multiple issues vexing Ethiopians, including deep fissures along political, ethnic and especially religious lines.

Global Voices report that these disputes are intensified by a lack of tolerance for independent thinking muddied by an insistence on support for political formations along partisan lines. These issues were exacerbated by online misinformation and disinformation which “further inflamed ethnic tensions.”

Observers warn that the response of the authorities to the protests in predictably shutting off the internet, deploying the army, and arresting politicians, activists and outspoken critics, discounts these deeper concerns and problems.

According to the International Crisis Group, Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy’s government has “struggled to balance competing demands for change among Ethiopia’s diverse constituencies. These include those of Oromo nationalists who aspire to enhanced devolution of power from the centre, an end to economic marginalisation and a formal role for the opposition in planning for the next election.”

The International Crisis Group recommends that “Ethiopian authorities and the opposition engage in sustained and serious dialogue on key fault lines to ensure that their followers stop taking their disputes to the streets.”

Standoff in Mali as mediation fails

Just as the crescendo of Eid al-Adha celebrations subsided, the whisperings for the resignation of Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita rose up again. Protests which have rocked Mali in recent weeks, resulting in deaths and injuries, were halted to pave way for a mediation process.

Years of discontent with economic decline, high levels of corruption and poor basic services were among the underlying issues that pushed Malians onto the streets of Bamako, in protests sparked by two rounds of disputed elections in March and April this year.

Malians’ anger was exacerbated by the government’s failure to contain militant insurgencies, especially in the Sahel. The government’s inability to contain the situation was highlighted by the abduction of the main leader of the opposition, Soumaïla Cissé, by gunmen on 25 March. He has not been seen since.

An extraordinary virtual summit of the 15-member ECOWAS regional bloc on 27 July has ordered the restoration of institutions that had stopped operating and stipulated that this be done within 10 days.

Meanwhile the standoff continues.

In Brief

The Gambia’s draft Access to Information legislation was tabled in the country’s National Assembly towards the end of June. The idea of ATI legislation was initiated by the Gambia Press Union in 2016 and the first draft was presented to the National Assembly in December 2019 by the Ministry of Justice. If formally adopted, the ATI Act will allow citizens, journalists, students and civil society organizations to easily access government data.

In Djibouti, journalist Charmarke Saïd Darar remains in detention four weeks after being arrested. Darar has not been allowed access to his lawyer and his family saw him for the first time since he was arrested when authorities brought him along as they rummaged through his home. His mobile phones and computer were taken during the search.

There is also a strong suspicion his Facebook account was hacked, because a message was posted on his Facebook page saying it had been “secured from outside.”  Mahamoud Djama, editor of La Voix de Djibouti (LVD) told RSF that he thought it was “a trap set by the regime to get his colleagues and sources to write to Darar, so that they could be identified.

Darar had initially gone into hiding when he heard journalists Mohamed Ibrahim Wais and Kassim Nouh Abar were arrested in separate incidents. Both journalists, who work for the externally based radio station LVD had been covering the story of a deserting Djiboutian air force pilot who circulated videos critical of President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh’s government.

Tanzania’s Communication Regulatory Authority has suspended Kwanza Online TV for 11 months for what it considers “generating and disseminating biased, misleading and disruptive content”. Tanzanian authorities have also come under criticism for their introduction of mandatory SIM card registration, purportedly to combat cybercrime and fraud. Critics argue that this will give the government unfettered access to the personal information of opponents and critics.

In a letter to Burundi’s incoming president Évariste Ndayishimiye, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has appealed to him to break from the past by releasing the #IWACU4 journalists – Christine Kamikazi, Agnès Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana, and Térence Mpozenzi – who were arrested in October 2019. CPJ also urged the incoming president to reopen banned media outlets and ensure thorough investigations into attacks on journalists.

In recognition of his courage in defending press freedom, while enduring arrests and government repression, Nigerian journalist and publisher Dapo Olorunyomi has been selected as one of the four recipients of CPJ’s 2020 International Press Freedom Award.

The Web Foundation has appointed Kenyan Dr Catherine Adeya as its director of research. Based in Nairobi, Dr Adeya will play a critical role in shaping the future direction of the organisation.

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) reviewed Ethiopia’s recurring internet shutdowns against the landmark ECOWAS Court of Justice ruling that declared Togo’s 2017 internet shutdown illegal. CIPESA concluded that “litigation needs to be complimented by several other efforts in fighting the scourge of shutdowns in the region.”

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The post #ZimbabweanLivesMatter traverses globe, Kenyans choking under police brutality, and Sierra Leone repeals criminal defamation law appeared first on IFEX.


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