Rustenburg – Media workers in east and southern Africa have been under increasing attack in the past year, Amnesty International said on Monday.
In a statement on World Press Freedom Day, Amnesty International said across the region, media workers have been laid off, television stations suspended or shut down, private press targeted and journalists intimidated in a heavy blow to the right to freedom of expression and access to information.
This was despite the urgent need for access to information during the Covid-19 pandemic and other crises in the region.
“This blatant attack on independent journalism across the region sends a chilling message that dissent and the uncovering of uncomfortable truths will not be tolerated…” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for east and southern Africa.
In Angola, he said, the licences of three television channels, Zap Viva, Vida TV and TV Record Africa Angola, were suspended in April this year, allegedly for operating under provisional registrations, and would remain suspended until the regularisation of their status.
Hundreds of jobs were lost in the process.
“The three media companies were taken aback by the suspension of their licences, as they alleged they had not received prior information or notification of any administrative procedure against them,” he said.
Four journalists were arrested and later granted a presidential pardon and released from prison in December 2020 in Burundi.
“They had been arrested in October 2019 on their way to report on clashes in Bubanza province and in January 2020 convicted of an “impossible” attempt to threaten internal state security, sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined 1 million Burundian francs (US$525).
“Their release and the reopening of Bonesha FM radio in February are positive developments, but severe restrictions on media freedom continue.”
In Madagascar, authorities issued a decree on April 22 banning all radio stations and audiovisual programmes “capable of threatening public order and security and threatening national unity”.
The decree was reversed on April 26 after strong backlash from civil society and media organisations.
It was replaced by another decree forcing radio stations and television programmes to submit and uphold a “letter of commitment” with the ministry in charge of communication, in exchange for being able to go on air. The ban was maintained on all radio and audiovisual programmes that include interventions likely to “threaten public order and security, to damage national unity or encourage civil disobedience”.
In Mozambique, the offices of the independent weekly newspaper Canal de Moçambique were torched on August 23, 2020.
“The attack came four days after the newspaper published an investigative story alleging unethical procurement by politically connected individuals and senior government officials, involving natural gas companies in Cabo Delgado, at the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy.”
He said journalists in Somalia faced an increasingly repressive working environment. They were beaten, harassed, threatened, subjected to arbitrary arrests and intimidated by the authorities, including by police, military and other government officials throughout south-central Somalia and in Puntland.
“Authorities also restricted access to information. Three journalists were killed in Somalia since last year by the armed group al-Shabaab and by other unidentified individuals. Journalists also faced trumped-up prosecutions in Mogadishu and in Garowe, Puntland.”
He said two of the journalists, Mohamed Abdiwahab Nur (Abuja) and Kilwe Adan Farah, were subjected to military court prosecutions.
In April 2020, Zambia cancelled the broadcasting licence of independent television news channel Prime TV.
“The decision was made after the station allegedly refused to air the government’s Covid-19 public awareness campaigns because it was owed money for airing previous state-sponsored advertisements.”
In Zimbabwe, freelance journalist and anti-corruption activist Hopewell Chin’ono was subject to police intimidation and harassment.
He was arrested three times between July 2020 and January 2021, spending more than 80 days in detention for exposing government corruption and supporting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
“On 28 April, the High Court quashed charges against Chin’ono of communicating false information following months of persecution. The court ruled that the law used by the police to arrest him in January no longer exists.”
He is still facing trial for alleged obstruction of justice in another case.