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ACHPR59: Statement on the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

59th Ordinary Session of the Africa Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Banjul, Islamic Republic of the Gambia

Public Session
Report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
October 2016

Madame Chairperson, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, distinguished Commissioners, State Delegates, representatives of NHRIs and NGOs; all protocols respectfully observed.

On behalf of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, I would like to thank Honourable Commissioner Pansy for her committed promotion of freedom of expression and access to information during the course of her mandate.

Throughout the East and Horn of Africa sub-region, the fundamental right to expression continues to be undermined by attacks both on an individual and collective level. Governments have forcibly closed NGOs and media outlets, and obstructed online expression through Internet and social media shutdowns. At the same time, journalists and human rights defenders face intimidation, physical attacks, arrests and detentions as a result of their work.

In Burundi, now that the majority of the country’s journalists and HRDs have gone into exile, a distressing silence has fallen over the country. The government has flouted its obligations to safeguard free speech and its officials regularly intimidate, arrest, detain, and disappear journalists and HRDs. Jean Bigirimana, a journalist with leading Iwacu newspaper, has been missing since 22 July and is feared dead.

Djibouti remains one of the most repressed countries in the sub-region, with little to no freedom of expression. The country’s only private media outlet L’Aurore had to cease publications after its chief editor Kadar Abdi Ibrahim was detained for 48 hours on 12 August.

In Ethiopia, the recent declaration of a State of Emergency further cements already draconian restrictions on freedom of expression. Mobile 3G networks have been shut down in parts of the country, including Addis Ababa since 5 October, and new directives give authorities broad powers to interrupt and shut down communications and to arrest and detain individuals without due process.

In Kenya, the lead up to the 2017 presidential elections has already triggered attacks on various forms of expression. Violently dispersed opposition protests in June resulted in a number of casualties, and recent months have also seen alarming reports of physical and judicial attacks on journalists and bloggers.

On a positive note, we commend the Kenyan parliament for enacting the Access to Information Bill.

Somalia remains one the most dangerous countries on the continent for the media, where journalists encounter threats from both state and non-state actors such as Al-Shabaab. During the reporting period two journalists were killed, nine were arrested, and two media houses were raided and shut down.

In Sudan, the National Intelligence Security Service (NISS) is responsible for the repeated arrest of journalists, suspension of media houses, and confiscation of print runs. In August, four media houses were suspended under the draconian Press and Publications Act (2009).

In Tanzania, state-led attempts to quash free expression have become more prevalent since President Magufuli’s election in 2015. In August alone the Minister of Information banned three media outlets citing the 1976 Newspaper Act. Civil society has expressed concerns that the draft Media Services Bill is not in line with regional and international standards.

In light of these updates and observations, we recommend that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights:

  • Adopt a resolution highlighting the need for governments to respect the fundamental right of Internet freedom; and
  • Urge States to amend restrictive laws and end practices that threaten freedom of expression as guaranteed in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.