Attacks on Journalists on the rise in Malawi and other African countries

Gregory Gondwe

Journalist Gregory Gondwe was arrested in Malawi last year

Authorities in Malawi and in other countries across East and Southern Africa escalated their attacks against journalists and press freedom to suppress reporting of corruption and human rights violations throughout 2022.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa and Amnesty International have said this today to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa said there has been a worrying trend of attacks, harassment, intimidation and the criminalization of journalism across East and Southern Africa demonstrating the length to which authorities are prepared to go to silence the media for exposing allegations of corruption and human rights violations.

“Journalists hold up a mirror to society. Targeting them simply for doing their work sends a wrong message that States are not prepared to uphold their human rights obligations and to be held accountable,” said Tabani Moyo, Regional Director for the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

In Malawi, police arrested Gregory Gondwe, an investigative journalist, in April 2022, for publishing a story alleging police corruption related to the procurement of water cannons, worth millions of US dollars.k

Gregory Gondwe was, in this instance, released without charge, but is still facing charges related to the illegal transmission of information online, under Section 91 of the Electronic Transaction and Cyber Security Act of 2016, which carries a fine of two million Malawian kwacha or imprisonment of up to five years if convicted.

Amnesty has since urged authorities to create a conducive environment which allows the press to work without repercussion, intimidation and imprisonment, for doing their job.

“Press freedom is fundamental to transparent societies. If authorities are committed to building human rights respecting societies and accountable governments, they must stop intimidating and harassing journalists,” Tabani Moyo, Regional Director for the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said.

“Without the press being able to freely report, to scrutinize and hold people in authority or positions of power to account, societies will be plunged into darkness. Authorities must stop targeting journalists and media organizations for doing their job.”

Freedom of expression under serious threat across the region

In Ethiopia, media freedom has come under significant attack, with authorities arresting at least 29 journalists and media workers across the country in 2022. The Tigrayan authorities charged five journalists with “collaboration with the enemy”. In May 2022, the police arrested Temesgen Desalegn, editor of Feteh magazine, and subsequently charged him with disclosing military secrets and spreading false rumours. He was released on bail of ETB 30,000 (about US$ 560) in November. In May 2022, the authorities also expelled Tom Gardner, a journalist working for The Economist newspaper based in Addis Ababa, following online harassment by government supporters about his reporting on Ethiopia.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, journalists were constantly threatened, intimidated, detained and sometimes even killed with impunity in the course of doing their work. The DRC ranked 149 out of 180 on the latest Press Freedom Index (with a 161/180 rank on the security indicator). In its report published in November 2022, the country’s leading journalists’ rights watchdog, Journalistes En Danger, reported 124 cases of attacks against journalists and media organizations last year alone. The cases included one journalist killed and two who were abducted. Another 37 journalists were arrested, while 18 others were physically assaulted and 17 media organizations or programmes shut down or suspended. A dozen of journalists are currently detained across the DRC, or with pending criminal proceedings in connection with their work.

In Mozambique, journalists deemed critical of the government were subjected to threats, harassment and intimidation. Two unidentified men handed a live bullet to Armando Nenane, a journalist and director of the Crónica Jurídica e Juduciária magazine in Maputo. The men claimed to be following orders from their superiors. The incident occurred after a court had cleared Armando Nenane of document forgery and defamation charges brought by the former Minister of Defence. After being cleared, Armando Nenane filed a defamation action against the former minister and members of the intelligence and counter-intelligence.

In Rwanda, journalists operate under the watchful eye of the authorities, often facing surveillance, harassment, intimidation and prosecution for their work. Amnesty International and other civil society organizations made repeated calls for an independent investigation into the death of John Williams Ntwali, a leading journalist, after his death in January 2023.

Another journalist, Theoneste Nsengimana, remains in unlawful detention in Rwanda following his arrest in October 2021 for “spreading rumours to cause unrest among the population”.

The Commonwealth Secretariat denied accreditation for the organization’s meeting taking place in Kigali last June to journalists Benedict Moran and Anjan Sundaram. They had published criticism of President Kagame and his government. The secretariat denied their decision was influenced by the host government and indicated that accreditation was denied because the two were not working for “recognised media outlets”.

In South Sudan, nine journalists covering a Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition press conference were briefly arrested by the National Security Service in June 2022 and had their equipment confiscated and audio recordings and photos deleted. The NSS was accused of censorship by the United Nations.

In Somalia, freedom of expression was severely restricted. Journalists were sometimes attacked by security forces and more regularly subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and prosecution. Nine journalists were injured and two media outlets temporarily suspended by the South West State authorities

In October, Somalia’s Ministry of Information issued a directive prohibiting the “dissemination of extremist ideologies from both traditional media broadcasts and social media”. Several media freedom advocates, including the Somali Journalists Syndicate’s secretary general, Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, publicly expressed their concerns about its impact on media freedom and the safety of journalists.

In Tanzania, authorities continued to use repressive media laws to restrict media freedom. On 1 July, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) temporarily suspended DarMpya, an online media outlet, following what it regarded as “complaints… against DarMpya’s content”. The content related to demonstrations by indigenous Maasai people against Kenya’s role in the government’s plans to evict them from their land.

In Zimbabwe, journalists were targeted using a recently introduced cybercrimes law. Between August and September, three journalists became the first people to be arrested under the Cyber and Data Protection Act, which was enacted in December 2021.

They were questioned in connection with a story they had published on a business enterprise believed to be run by individuals with connections to the government. They were charged with transmitting “false data intending to cause harm” and released only after their lawyer assured officers that they would be available for further questioning when required.

In Burundi, journalist Floriane Irangabiye has been detained since August 2022. On 2 January 2023, she was convicted on the trumped-up charge of “undermining the integrity of the national territory” and sentenced to 10 years in prison and a fine of one million Burundian francs (around USD 482). Her prosecution stems from the peaceful exercise of her human rights and for her work as a journalist. On 30 March 2023, the Court of Appeal of Mukaza in Bujumbura held a hearing on her appeal and has 30 days to issue its ruling.

Burundian law enforcement authorities shut down a press conference organized by civil society organizations Words and Actions for the Awakening of Consciences and the Evolution of Mentalities (PARCEM) and the Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (OLUCOME) in March 2022. During the conference, participants had denounced the Ministry of Interior’s measures banning bicycles, tricycles and motorcycles from Bujumbura city centre.

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