EAJA raises red flag over 5 media freedom trouble-spots in Eastern Africa

The General Assembly (GM) of the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA) which came to a close today, 3 October 2010, has identified Eritrea, Somalia, Burundi, Uganda and Southern Sudan as the region’s most problematic hot spots with the highest number of media freedom violations.

The three-day General Assembly attended by delegates from journalists’ unions and associations from 10 countries, and which kicked off on Friday, 1 October 2010, focused on the state of media freedom and welfare of journalists in the Eastern Africa Region. The General Assembly noted the following:

In Eritrea, some 30 journalists continue to languish in remote prisons since 18 September 2001, making the country Africa’s greatest jailer of journalists. Authorities in Eritrea have continued holding the journalists in prisons and incommunicado with increased level of impunity, defying repeated calls and appeals for their release.

Somalia remains the most dangerous place for journalists in Africa with 22 journalists killed since 2007 in targeted attacks by armed groups. One journalist has been jailed for six years recently while 5 media houses have been forcefully taken over by the extremists, the Al-Shabaab and the Hisbul Islam, who have consequently turned them into propaganda mouthpieces. Furthermore, about 42 journalists have fled the country to neighboring countries since January 2010.

In Burundi, the authorities on 17 July 2010 arrested a journalist, Jean ClaudeClaude Kavumbagu, who is still being held in prison after being charged with treason- a charge punishable by life imprisonment if convicted. The authorities have refused to release the journalist on bail despite the existence of legal provisions for such a facility.

In Uganda, three journalists have been killed in barbaric situations by groups and gangs, while one journalist remains detained in northern Uganda. The president’s signing into law of the Communications interception bill and the renewed process by the authorities to amend the Journalists Law are worrying trends aimed at stifling secrecy and freedom of expression in the country.

In southern Sudan, the different political factions and armed groups have suddenly assumed a vindictive approach against the media and journalists in the face of the oncoming referendum scheduled for 9 January 2011, jeopardizing the security and safety of our colleagues. There have been several cases of barbaric treatment of journalists including beatings, arrests, threats and banishments, all aimed at harassing and intimidating journalists and media presumed to be independent and free from any political orientation.

The General Assembly therefore identifies these five cases as the blight responsible for giving the region a bad name. Eastern Africa has been judged to be the most volatile region of Africa, particularly as concerns journalism. Intimidation, repression, conflict and outright targeted violence, among other worrying trends, constitute real obstacles and threats to the journalism profession, to the point of making it a life threatening activity for those who practice it.

In this regard, EAJA commits itself to prioritize the mitigation of risks that undermine the safety of journalists through the implementation of mechanisms necessary to protect the lives of journalists who are, in the course of their work, left vulnerable and exposed to situations that endanger their lives. Moreover, EAJA calls on states and governments in the region to respect their obligations to promote and protect human rights in relation to the international conventions which they have signed and ratified.

EAJA General Assembly condemns in the strongest possible terms the killing of journalists with impunity in the region and the perpetual intimidation and harassment of journalists in the execution of their duties. EAJA demands that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against journalists are apprehended and brought to justice in the interest of democracy and humanity. EAJA demands the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists currently being held in prisons in the region

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