Africa’s media freedom within the highlight as leaders collect in Washington

WASHINGTON – As america welcomed African leaders to Washington for a summit this week, the media freedom file of a number of of these nations got here into focus.

At the least 56 journalists are in jail for his or her work in 11 African nations, a number of of which have a protracted historical past of silencing the free press, in response to a report launched Wednesday by the Committee to Shield Journalists (CPJ).

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Whereas Iran and China registered as probably the most prolific jailers of journalists within the annual report, with 62 and 43 jailed respectively, Egypt with 21 circumstances and Eritrea with 16 are among the many 10 worst nations.

The report paints a bleak image of these imprisoned, typically for reporting info unfavorable to the federal government. Total, 2022 marked the very best whole ever for CPJ, with 363 journalists in jail as of December 1, 2022.

CPJ’s Angela Quintal advised VOA that the report’s launch is “quite ironic” as a result of “we have these leaders who happen to meet with the president [Joe] Biden, [Secretary of State Antony Blinken]and make trade deals, which are among the worst jailers of journalists in Africa.”

Eritrea was one of the countries not invited to the summit because it does not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States. However, advocates and exiled writers have called for the release of journalists imprisoned there, some for 21 years.

“Their whereabouts are unknown, their households have no idea the place they’re and nobody is aware of what sort of life they’re dwelling or if they’re dwelling,” said Eritrean author Awet Fissehaye.

The poet in exile is the executive director of PEN Eritrea. His organization recently showed pictures of imprisoned Eritrean journalists in the British Parliament to raise awareness.

In Cameroon, at least five journalists are in prison after authorities responded to a conflict involving separatist movements in the English-speaking region. Journalists covering the unrest were intimidated or taken away, CPJ reported.

Morocco has at least three journalists imprisoned, and the Democratic Republic of Congo has two journalists in prison. CPJ documented one journalist each in Algeria, Burundi, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Senegal.

Of the four journalists jailed in Rwanda, three were arrested for posting content deemed critical of the government on YouTube.

“They’re doing it on this platform as a result of it is one of many nation’s few remaining publishing platforms, as a result of the house for dissenting speech has been shut down in conventional media,” Quintal said.

She added that CPJ has heard “disturbing stories of torture and ill-treatment and poor circumstances” for journalists behind bars.

Rwanda’s Justice Ministry did not immediately respond to VOA’s request for comment.

Neighboring Burundi is responsible for the only known case of a detained female journalist in Africa: Floriane Irangabiye.

“She has reportedly been sexually assaulted throughout her detention,” Quintal said.

CPJ researchers who spoke to people familiar with the reporter’s case say an intelligence agent allegedly groped Irangabiye.

Burundi’s prosecutors have said the accusation is “unfounded”.

CPJ’s annual report gives a snapshot of journalists in jail, but it doesn’t give the whole picture, says Quintal. The non-profit organization only includes cases of journalists detained by official government agencies.

Ethiopia is one such case, she said. The country has been mired in a two-year civil war, and journalists have been caught in the crossfire.

In August, CPJ published research showing that at least 63 journalists had been jailed or briefly detained covering political events or stories about the war.

In the Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle, five journalists are currently being held by the regional leadership. Three are accused of “collaborating with the enemy” during a period when the regional capital was under the control of the federal government.

Because the regional government of Tigray is not officially recognized as the formal authority, the cases are not included in CPJ’s report.

“We name on the Tigray rebels to make sure their launch as quickly as potential,” Quintal said. “No journalist deserves to be in jail for his or her work.”

Mesfin Araya, a lawyer for one of the journalists, told VOA’s Tigrigna Service that tactics are used to delay justice and that “justice delayed is justice denied.”

The regional prosecutor’s office said the journalists were not being held because of journalism but because they were suspected of being involved in other crimes.

International pressure

Most journalists in Africa are imprisoned on anti-government charges, but cybercrime and criminal defamation laws also pose risks.

In Senegal, journalist Pape Ale Niang, who runs the Dakar Matin news website, was charged with disseminating information harmful to public security for publishing stories about rape allegations involving a political opposition figure.

And Oloye Ayodele Samuel of Nigerian outlet Taraba Truth & Facts is jailed on defamation charges.

Both Niang of Senegal and Samuel of Nigeria have been released on bail but still face charges.

Even arresting a journalist can be harmful to a country’s media freedom environment, experts say.

Authorities in Somalia have twice detained Abdalle Ahmed Mumin of the Somali Journalists Syndicate in recent months, in a move condemned by international rights groups.

CPJ and Human Rights Watch are among the rights groups that raised Mumin’s case in a Monday letter to the country’s attorney general.

“Until this day [Mumin] faces ongoing threats and persecution,” the letter said. “Persevering with his prosecution not solely has a chilling impact on media freedom and journalism, but in addition contributes considerably to the closing civil house within the nation.”

Quintal at CPJ says international pressure can lead to change. In Egypt, at least 12 journalists have been freed, in part due to the efforts of international advocates.

Globally, CPJ says it has assisted in the release of 130 journalists by 2022.

“That is why we imagine the worldwide neighborhood has a task to play,” to ensure the safety and release of journalists in states that Quintal describes as “repressive,” “anti-press freedom” and “anti-free speech.”

VOA Tigrigna Service’s Minia Afwerki and Mulugeta Atsbeha contributed to this report.

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