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ACHPR: Oral intervention on the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa

Oral intervention on the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa

53rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Banjul, The Gambia, 11th April 2013

Honorable Chairperson, commissioners, distinguished delegates,

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project would like to thank the honorable commissioner for her valuable work to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression and access to information in Africa, and support the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation of a campaign to decriminalize defamation and other laws that criminalize free speech on the African Continent. Laws that criminalize free speech have a chilling effect on the democratic space, as citizens and journalists resort to self-censorship to avoid repercussions.

Other journalists in the region remain in prison on convictions of defamation.

Madame Chairperson, EHAHRDP would like to recall the case of the 18 Eritrean journalists detained in September 2001 at the same time as the government closed all independent papers in the country. In 2007, the Commission adopted a decision urging the government of Eritrea to release or to bring to a speedy and fair trial the 18 journalists detained since September 2001, and to lift the ban on the press; and recommending that the detainees be granted immediate access to their families and legal representatives. Since that time it is understood that most of the journalists have passed away in detention, while the others remain incommunicado. A writ of habeas corpus was filed before the High Court in 2011 on behalf of one of the journalists named in the 2007 decision, Dawit Isaak, but no response has been received. We once again urge the Commission to take urgent action to protect Eritreans from further abuse of their human rights, including the freedom of expression.

EHAHRDP has previously raised the case of Reeyot Alemu, an Ethiopian journalist imprisoned on terrorism charges. We are concerned to receive reports that prison authorities have threatened Reeyot with solitary confinement for two months as punishment for alleged bad behavior toward them and threatening to publicize human rights violations by prison guards, especially in light of her ill health. We urge the Government of Ethiopia to withdraw this threat and ensure that she receives adequate medical care.

EHAHRDP thanks the Special Rapporteur for the joint urgent letter of appeal transmitted together with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa to the President of the Somali Republic on the case of the journalist imprisoned for preparing a report on the case of an IDP woman who was gang-raped in Mogadishu. While we are pleased to note that the journalist was released on 17th March, media workers in Somalia continue to face unacceptable threats and dangers. 18 media workers were killed in Somalia in the course of last year and at least three so far since the beginning of 2013.

EHAHRDP therefore appreciates the Special Rapporteur’s engagement in the implementation process of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, adopted in April 2012. Strengthened efforts to promote the safety of journalists, and in particular to bring an end to the impunity that allows attacks on journalists to continue unabated, are urgently needed.

We therefore echo the Special Rapporteur’s call for the African Union to adopt the UN Plan of Action or a similar plan.

I thank you.