Media freedom remains under threat in several countries in southern Africa with journalists put in jail for simply doing their job, Amnesty International said today as it took stock on World Press Freedom Day.
"In the past year, we have seen blatant attempts to muzzle the media and restrict the right to freedom of expression in countries such as Madagascar, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe with journalists being harassed or jailed simply for doing their work, with far-reaching implications including self-censorship,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“This onslaught is undermining the very essence of free societies, where journalists must be able to do their work without fearing intimidation, harassment or other reprisals.”
In Madagascar, investigative journalist Fernand Cello spent nearly two years in jail after he was convicted on trumped up charges related to his work, concerning the fabricated accusations that he stole a cheque book. He was acquitted by the Fianarantsoa Appeal Court on 2 April 2019.
In Mozambique, a radio journalist, Amade Abubacar, is out on bail pending his trial after languishing in pre-trial detention for almost four months after he was arrested for interviewing a group of displaced people who were fleeing attacks by militant groups in their homes in Cabo Delgado in January. Amade is facing trumped-up charges of “public incitement” and insulting public officials through electronic media among others. A date for his trial is yet to be set.
In December last year, investigative journalist Estacio Valoi was abducted by the military and held incommunicado for two days in Mocímboa da Praia district, north of Pemba, accused of spying and aiding and abetting militant groups. He was later released without charge, although his equipment remains confiscated by the military for “further investigation”.
In June 2018, Pindai Dube, a journalist working for eNCA, an independent television news station based in South Africa, was arrested by police in Pemba and accused of spying. He was released three days later without charge.
In Zambia, the Editor-in-Chief of The Rainbow Newspaper, Derrick Sinjela, is currently serving an 18-month jail sentence after being convicted in December 2018 on contempt of court charges for publishing an opinion piece written by an activist alleging corruption in the judiciary. Sinjela was unfairly convicted and jailed for criticizing the judiciary over a case that had been completed.
In early March, authorities suspended the broadcasting license of independent news station, Prime TV, for 30 days citing failure to comply with the conditions of its broadcasting license. The station was later re-instated after almost a month of blackout.
In Zimbabwe, police raided the offices of online news site 263 Chat and fired tear gas into the newsroom after chasing reporter Lovejoy Mtongwiza to the adjacent offices of 263 Chat’s on 4 April. This was after he filmed the removal of street vendors by the police in the capital, Harare.
“Authorities must stop treating the media with contempt and open up the space for journalists to do their work safely without having to look over their shoulders,” said Deprose Muchena.
“A vibrant and independent press is essential for the enjoyment of human rights. Journalists should not be treated as enemies of the state,”