Crimes Against Journalists

Situation of journalists in Africa has worsened with Covid-19 restrictions

Pictures and names of journalists who were killed in 2018 while doing their job, are on display during the annual Journalist Memorial rededication ceremony at the Newseum on June 3, 2019
Pictures and names of journalists who were killed in 2018 while doing their job, are on display during the annual Journalist Memorial rededication ceremony at the Newseum on June 3, 2019 GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

On 2 November, International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, there are concerns that cases of physical attack and harassment of media representatives in several African countries have increased since Covid-19 lockdown measures came into force. 

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International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists was proclaimed by United Nations General Assembly resolution to be marked on 2 November in memory of the 2013 assassination in Mali of French journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon.

The New-York-based Committee To Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reported a plethora of incidents from various African countries in the months since the Covid-19 lockdown was enforced.

It is urging the 16 heads of state the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) to prioritise media freedom and safety and to allow a critical exchange of political ideas.

In South Africa tempers boiled over in the central Free State province’s agricultural town of Senekal in September when white farmers demanded that police hand over to them three men suspected of killing a young foreman.

Journalists were attacked and threatened when they covered this event that included the destruction of police property by the farmers.

Reporter forced to flee to Lesotho

The journalists came under further pressure at subsequent bail hearings when the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema, confronted the white farmers.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the South African authorities to guarantee the freedom and safety of journalists covering the coronavirus epidemic and to punish all those responsible for abuses against reporters, including the newspaper editor who fled to Lesotho in May after repeated police beatings.

This is the first time in post-apartheid South Africa that a journalist has left the country with the intention of seeking asylum as a result of reprisals in connection with their reporting.

Paul Nthoba fled across the border four days after being repeatedly assaulted by Ficksburg police in connection with his coverage of a lockdown enforcement operation.

He reported the violence to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, which polices the police, but was given no protection.

Instead, he was charged with violating lockdown regulations and is facing up to six months in prison under the a law amended in April to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

South Africa slips in the RSF press freedom index

Rubber bullets were fired at reporter Azarrah Karrim while she was covering a lockdown enforcement operation in Johannesburg on the first day of the nationwide lockdown. 

South Africa ranked 31st out of a 180 countries in the 2020 press freedom index issued by RSF. It has slipped down three places from 2018 which was its best position since 2004.

Journalists were attacked in South Africa covering protests in 1993 and 1994 and again in 2014, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Committee says four South journalists died doing their jobs between 1994 and 2020. 

There have been isolated cases of journalists being roughed up or intimidated and even wrongfully arrested while reporting on corruption.

This treatment pales by comparison with the heavy handed action of the apartheid regime against reporters.

CAR, Mozambique

The last confirmed recorded deaths of journalists in Africa was in the Central Africa Republic where a three-man Russian film crew of  Krill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguyev and Orhan Dzhemel was ambushed on a lonely road in August 2018.

The journalists were investigating the activities of a Russian private military contractor known as the the Wagner Group in the mineral-rich country.

The Kremlin-linked group is also involved in Mozambique following an agreement between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Felipe Nyusi.

At least 200 Wagner operatives were deployed in Mozambique’s gas-rich Cabo del Gado province to deal with ISIS-linked jihadis terrorising the local population.

The mercenary group is finding it difficult to fulfill its mandate and the European Union has since agreed to provide training and material assistance to Mozambican authorities in this struggle.

The Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) reports beatings and harassment by police and soldiers of journalists covering developments in Cabo del Gado. There were also reports of media offices being torched.

A local journalist Ibraimo Mbaryco went missing in April after reporting that he was surrounded by soldiers. Authorities cannot confirm reports that Mbaryco is dead.

Zimbabwe, eSwatini

Conditions have barely improved in Zimbabwe since the military ended Robert Mugabe’s 40-year presidency and installed Emmerson Mnangagwa three years ago.

Investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’Ono was jailed for six weeks until September when he was granted bail to face charges of inciting public violence. by reporting official corruption. He has been banned from disseminating information to the public via social media.

Eugene Dube is the latest journalist to have fled eSwatini for neighbouring South Africa. He worked for The Observer newspaper owned by King Mswati III.

The SADC is being urged to press authorities in the kingdom to cease harassment and intimidation of journalists who file reports critical of their government's actions.

Madagascar, Namibia

The CPJ is calling on Madagascar authorities to release journalist Arphine Helsio facing charges of spreading fake news and incitement. Journalists face five years in jail for defaming President Andry Rajoelina.

Meanwhile, journalists in Namibia have hit out at employers and politicians for muzzling the media and in defence of “the right to ask difficult questions”.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has backed the calls by journalists to be able to work in the public interest, free from pressure or restraint.

The IFJ’s Africa office is currently working with journalists in Namibia to develop a new trade union to fight for the labour and professional rights of the country’s media workers.

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