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

54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Banjul, The Gambia

Honorable Chairperson, commissioners, distinguished delegates,

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project would like to thank the honorable commissioner, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, for her valuable work to promote respect for freedom of expression and access to information in Africa. In particular, we take this opportunity to thank Commissioner Tlakula for her tireless efforts for the improvement of the safety of journalists and the decriminalization of defamation throughout Africa. EHAHRDP calls on states to implement her recommendations without delay.

EHAHRDP is deeply concerned, however, by the continuing crackdown on the independence of the media in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region, both in law and in practice.

Despite widespread outcry, a restrictive new law regulating the media was promulgated in Burundi in June. The law makes untenable and sweepingly broad exceptions to the right (and indeed international norm) of journalists not to reveal their sources, where it relates to matters of state security, public order, defence secrets and the physical or moral integrity of one or several persons. It also introduces new restrictions on subjects that journalists may cover, and introduces sanctions- including criminal prosecutions and substantial fines of up to 6 million Burundian Francs for breaches of the law.

New media legislation is also under discussion in Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan. We call on their legislatures to ensure that the laws robustly protect the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

Throughout the region in the past sixth months, we can cite cases of physical attacks on journalists, death threats, arbitrary arrests and detention, convictions for defamation, permanent and temporary closures of media houses, pre- and post-publication censorship, the seizure of printed newspapers and the blocking on websites. To cite only a few individual examples, in Somalia at least six media workers have been killed so far this year. In Ethiopia, many journalists remain in prison after being convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation for voicing criticism of the government, including EskinderNega and ReeyotAlemu. They are being held in conditions that fail to meet basic human rights standards, including the right to receive visitors.

It is clear that the rights to freedom of expression and access to information – the foundation of any free and democratic society – are under attack in our sub-region, and across Africa. We take this opportunity to encourage the honorable commissioner in her work, and to call on States to allow free and fruitful debate to take place in a safe and enabling environment in their countries.

I thank you.


Human Rights Defender of the month: Alex Njenga John

Alex Njenga has always believed in egalitarianism both as a principle and as a tool for justice. As a result, he has always been suspicious of, and at times hostile to social prejudices that treat some people as “more equal than others,” – to use a line from George Orwell’s famed political fable, Animal Farm.

Some of the experiences that have shaped his social and political outlook have been personal. As an adolescent in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County, Alex was stigmatised and denied healthcare after he identified himself as belonging to Kenya’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community.