Media freedom is still a dream in several African countries as authorities continue to detain journalists and order the shutting down of newspapers, among other repressive measures. The Commission to Protect Journalists (CPJ) continues to document shocking incidents of harassment of journalists and media houses by governments in an effort to curtail their ability to report freely.
Here are some of the most recent incidents:
- On August 17, Zimbabwean police in Gweru, the capital of Midlands Province, arrested Elizabeth Mashiri, an assistant editor and Midlands bureau chief for privately-owned daily newspaper the Mirror, and detained her for about four hours at the central police station on allegations of disorderly conduct.
Mashiri told the Commission to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that around 11 a.m. on August 17, she was taking pictures and videos of a physical altercation in the city centre between vendors and police when an officer, identified by the tag on her uniform as Constable Mutundwa, grabbed her by her jacket, ignored the press card that she showed her, and dragged her to a municipal vehicle.
Another officer grabbed Mashiri and lifted her dress as she tried to bundle the journalist into the car, the journalist said, adding that another reporter tried to intervene. She was then placed in the front of the vehicle and transported to the police station, Mashiri said. “I was charged with disorderly conduct and thrown in a disgusting cell. The toilet was full of human waste. Later on, a lawyer came to my rescue,” she told CPJ.
“The unprovoked arrest and humiliating detention of journalist Elizabeth Mashiri in Gweru is the latest example of the Zimbabwean police’s contempt for basic human rights, including media freedom,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa programme head.
- On September 13, the Luanda Provincial Court, in Angola, convicted editor of the online news outlet A Denúncia, Carlos Alberto, on charges of criminal defamation, injurious denunciation, and violating press freedom, according to CPJ. The court sentenced Alberto to two years in prison and a fine of 110 million kwanzas (US$176,000) but allowed him to remain free and suspended the sentence for 20 days to allow Alberto to make a public apology.. If he publishes an apology every five days on his Facebook page and on A Denúncia website for 45 days, the fine and prison term will be dropped.
The charges were prompted by a complaint filed by Angolan deputy attorney-general, Luis Liz, in response to A Denúncia’s May 15 video about his alleged illegal appropriation of land for a shopping mall.
Alberto told CPJ that he had appealed the decision and had no intention of apologising. His lawyer, Almeida Lucas, told CPJ that the appeal would be heard by the Supreme Court and the sentence was suspended until the appeal was heard.
“The conviction and sentencing of Angolan journalist Carlos Alberto is egregious. Criminal defamation and insult laws are colonial relics that have been found to be unconstitutional in several jurisdictions throughout Africa and globally, and should never be used to persecute the press,” said Quintal. “Angola’s judiciary has the opportunity to finally strike down these laws, which criminalise journalism and are abused by the country’s politicians and officials against the press,” she added.
- On September 12, Algerian police officers in the northern city of Tizi Ouzou arrested journalist Mohamed Mouloudj, a reporter for the local independent newspaper Liberté. Police also raided Mouloudj’s home earlier that day.
The Sidi M’hamed Court in Algiers charged Mouloudj with spreading false news, harming national unity, and belonging to a terrorist group, and ordered his detention pending investigation.
If convicted of spreading false news, Mouloudj could face up to five years in prison. He could face up to 10 years for harming national security. The charge of membership of a terrorist group can be punished by the death penalty or life in prison, according to the Algerian penal code.
“Algerian authorities must release journalist Mohamed Mouloudj immediately and drop all the charges against him,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa programme c-oordinator Sherif Mansour. “Algerian journalists should be able to work freely and cover sensitive topics without fear that they will be jailed and face charges that could carry the death penalty,” argued Mansour.
- On September 20, plainclothes military officers arrested Democratic Republic of Congo journalist, Pierre Sosthène Kambidi, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse and the local news website cd, at the Sultani Hotel in the capital, Kinshasa.
The journalist was taken into custody and initially questioned as a witness in the case of the 2017 killing of U.N. experts Michael Sharp and Zaida Catalan in the country’s Kasai Central region, and was subsequently accused of the alleged crimes of terrorism, criminal association, and insurrection, according to the reports by Actualite and RFI. Kambidi has not been formally charged and is being held at the office of the auditor-general, an authority responsible for military justice in the country.
But it is also believed that Kambidi’s arrest was connected with the prosecutor’s desire to know how Kambidi came to possess footage of Sharp’s and Catalan’s killings as well as how he knew details surrounding their deaths. Kambidi reported extensiley about the killings and other violence in the area, said the CPJ.
“Journalist Pierre Sosthène Kambidi should never have been arrested, and his detention without charge by military authorities sends a chilling message to the press in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” said Quintal. “Congolese authorities must respect Kambidi’s right to keep his sources confidential, and should immediately release him and drop any investigation into his work,” she demanded.
- In a statement released on September 5, Tanzanian government spokesperson, Gerson Msigwa, announced a month-long suspension of the privately-owned newspaper, Raia Mwema. The government accused Raia Mwema of repeatedly breaking the law and violating professional journalism standards through misleading reporting and incitement.
However, Raia Mwema editor, Joseph Kulangwa, denied the allegations, but said the newspaper would comply with the order and would not file an appeal.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who took office in March, previously ordered the reversals of some media bans, and officials in her government have made statements committing to improve conditions for journalists, according to multiple news reports.
However, last month, her government also suspended Uhuru, a newspaper owned by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, for two weeks.
“Promises by Tanzania’s government to improve the country’s press freedom climate will continue to ring hollow if authorities keep up the trend of taking newspapers off the streets on the flimsiest pretexts,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Tanzanian officials should drop their suspension of Raia Mwema and ensure that all newspapers can report the news without fear of suspensions and bans,” said Mumo.