Home | News    Saturday 4 May 2013

AU urged to stand for press freedom and protection of journalists

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By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

May 3, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - As the globe marks the World Press Freedom Day on Friday, the international press rights group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), called on the African Union (AU) to do more to promote press freedom and protect journalists.

In an open letter it sent to AU chairperson Nkosazana Zuma, CPJ urged the organisation to play a leading role in efforts to secure the release of all journalists imprisoned in Africa.

“We urge you to use your office to persuade member states to comply with the letter and spirit of conventions they have signed that uphold press freedom”, said CPJ’s executive director, Joel Simon.

The press advocacy group further appealed for justice for all African journalists killed in the course of duty.

According to CPJ research, at least 80 journalists were murdered in the continent since 1992, with no-one yet held accountable for their deaths.

At least 41 African journalists are said to be spending World Press Freedom Day imprisoned in direct reprisal for carrying out their journalistic duty.

Nigeria, where five journalists have been killed with impunity since 2009 and Somalia, where journalists are routinely executed, were labelled among the worst nations globally in combating deadly, anti-press violence.

The CPJ also expressed alarm that Ethiopia and the Gambia, which host offices of the AU, are among the nations currently holding journalists in detention.

“These imprisonments have silenced important voices, often in contravention of regional and international rulings”, Simon said.

With seven journalists behind bars, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s foremost jailers of journalists, behind neighbouring Eritrea, where at least 30 journalists are behind bars.

Meanwhile, an Ethiopian court on Thursday rejected an appeal in the case of blogger Eskinder Nega who was convicted on terrorism-related charges, upholding an 18-year prison sentence.

The CPJ called for Eskinder, a 2012 laureate of the PEN American Centre and prominent government critic, to be released immediately, describing the charges against him as “fabricated”.

In reaction to the court ruling, CPJ’s Africa advocacy coordinator, Mohamed Keita said: “This ruling trivialises the serious crime of terrorism, upholds a politically motivated travesty of justice, and lessens Ethiopia’s international standing”.

“As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Ethiopia should comply with its obligations under international law and its own constitution and release Eskinder unconditionally. The persecution of Eskinder and other journalists is the hallmark of a regime fearful of the opinions of its citizens”, he added.

The New York-based press freedom group has also called for the release of Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu, the 2013 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize winner, who is serving a five-year term also on terrorism-related charges.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among other international institutions, have in the past censured Ethiopia for the imprisonment of Reeyot and other journalists facing lengthy prison terms under the country’s overly broad anti-terrorism laws.

(ST)

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