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Today is World Press Freedom Day

3 May 2007 at 09:09 | 711 views

IFJ(International Federation of Journalists) Africa statement on the World Press Freedom Day.

May 3, 2007.

Impunity should no longer be tolerated when a journalist is killed, attacked or threatened.

Dear Colleagues,

Today, May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. The entire world commemorates this day to reflect on the magnanimous work done by the media and moreover to reassess the trials and tribulations that the media had gone through within the past year. In Africa, it is sad to note that press freedom is constantly under attack and hence continuously violated. Violent attacks on the media, arbitrary arrest and detention without trial, utilisation of draconian laws to imprison journalists, impunity and bad working conditions are the main factors that continue to confront journalists and media workers in the continent.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, (UNESCO) theme for this Year’s celebrations is: “Press Freedom, Safety of Journalists and Impunity”. Such a theme comes at the right moment, because of the increasing number of journalists assassinated throughout the world. The International Federation of Journalists (FIJ) had indeed recorded at least 155 murders and unexplained deaths of journalists and media workers in 2006, which makes it the worse year of all.

African Governments Urged to Conduct Independent Investigations to bring Journalists’ Murderers to Justice.

In Africa, some of our colleagues will be taking part in this year’s celebrations with very nostalgic feelings. We wish to express our sincere condolence and solidarity once again with their families and friends for the lost of their dear ones. Last year, among the nine (9) journalists killed in Africa, five (5) of them were assassinated and the others were killed in road accidents while on assignment.

The murderers of Martin Adler (Somalia), Bapuwa Muamba (Democratic Republic of Congo), Madey Garas (Somalia), Mohammed Taha (Sudan), Godwin Agbroko (Nigeria), are still at large.

This year, (2007) we already count 6 of our colleagues who have been killed. Among them 3 were cowardly shot. These include Ali Mohammed Omar (Somalia), Samuel Kwabena Enin (Ghana) and Edward Chikomba (Zimbabwe).

We reiterate here our call to the governments and the judicial authorities of Somalia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, The Gambia and all the other countries where journalists were assassinated, to conduct independent investigations to bring the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice.

Impunity should no longer be tolerated when a journalist is killed, attacked or threatened. Very rare do we see trials conducted against the “killers of journalists” which end with the conviction of the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. At best, it is often some henchmen who are convicted as it was the case after the assassination of Carlos Cardoso (2000) in Mozambique and Frank Kangundu and his wife (2005) in DRC. The perpetrators are still protected by some governments or very biased justice systems. In Burkina Faso, in the trial of the murder of Norbert Zongo, (killed in 1998), the court withdrew the case in July 2006 and exonerate the only person accused in this case.

Road accidents represent the other major reasons for the death of journalists in Africa. The managers of media companies must make sure that journalists go on assignment under the best conditions of safety and insurance. It is unacceptable that so many journalists continue to lose their lives or are wounded in car accidents without insurance and social security.

Similarly, journalists working in conflict zones or in dangerous areas must have suitable protection and considered as civilians and neutral parties by the different forces. Resolution 1738 of the United Nations Security Council of December 23, 2006 which protects the journalists in conflict, says that, killing a journalist can be regarded as a war crime. The IFJ welcomed the adoption of this resolution, which it campaigned for with its member trade unions and calls for its strict application in Africa.

Draconian laws continue to be used by governments to muzzle the press.

In Africa today, a lot of journalists continue to languish in jail because of the draconian legislations adopted by the states which continued to be utilised in kangaroo courts. The IFJ calls on the Members of Parliaments and the civil society of Africa to raise their voices for the suppression of all undemocratic laws on defamation and those laws that are meant to curtail the freedom of the press. It is the ardent belief of the IFJ that journalists should not be imprisoned for their work. Media self-regulatory bodies, made up of media professionals should be established and empowered so that they can take the role to monitor the work of the media and to ensure that those who work in the media are guided by the ethics of the profession.

The IFJ welcomed the release of 8 journalists in Ethiopia, on April 9, 2007. These journalists are among the journalists arrested in the crackdown of November 2005 and charged with genocide and treason. We call on the Ethiopian justice system to release the remaining journalists who are still in custody, as no serious reason requires their continued imprisonment.

Eritrea had not made any positive move concerning fifteen journalists held incommunicado and in difficult conditions. These journalists, including the Swedish-Eritrean, Issac Dawit, are arbitrarily held since 2001 when all the independent media in the country have been shut down.

In Zimbabwe, in addition to the arbitrary and brutal arrests of journalists, torture is also used by the security forces. Journalist Gift Phiri, of the Zimbabwean newspaper, was kidnapped on April 1st from his house by the police force and severely beaten while in detention. In the same vein, journalists’ equipment continued to be confiscated and destroyed during their arrest.

The IFJ is hereby engaging its members unions and associations to be more active in defending the improvement of the living and working conditions of journalists, the fight for press freedom and the safety of journalists.

A free press and a constitutional guarantee of the freedom of expression constitute a fundamental element of democracy.

Photo: Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.