Africa: ‘Stop Prosecuting Us’ – African Journalists Tell AU Leaders (05-07-07)

Journalists from across the continent joined together last Friday to call on African Union leaders to release imprisoned media professionals and end the persecution of the press.
"We believe it is unacceptable that journalists will be jailed simply for exercising their profession," Sa

idou Arji, coordinator of the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisation, said at a press conference sponsored by seven media and human rights organizations.

“When a journalist is jailed, it is not only he that goes to prison but a whole group of people who can be referred to as collective prisoners because they are denied information,” he added.
Fifteen journalists are currently jailed in Eritrea, and 13 in Ethiopia, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
Assault and assassination have plagued media professionals in Zimbabwe, the DR Congo, Swaziland and Somalia.
More than 100 journalists have been forced into exile in both Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. As African heads of state gathered in Accra to the possibility of creating a United States of Africa, journalists urged them to commit to ending press freedom violations.
“What does a union mean for journalists?” Gabriel Baglo, the Africa Director of the International Federation of Journalists, asked. “What does one state mean for journalists, if there’s not democracy, if there’s not press freedom?”
Speaking from the Ghana International Press Center, journalists shared personal stories of the oppression they have faced while trying to carry out their jobs.
“I’ve been arrested 126 times during my 27 years as a journalist,” Cameroonian Pius N. Njawe of the Free Media Group said.
Ibrahim Famakham Coulibaly, the Malian president of the West African Journalists Association, described being brutally assaulted by security forces during a protest march in Bamako last month.
Coulibaly and other journalists were protesting the arrest of five journalists in relation to an article about a secondary school teacher who assigned his students an essay on a fictional governmental sex scandal.
After two men hit him in the face, Coulibaly said he was knocked unconscious. “I was between life and death,” he said.
The five Malian journalists have been released on a suspended sentence, but the teacher remains in jail.
So many of the journalists in the room had faced some sort of persecution, Guinean journalist Souleymane Diallo, Vice-President of The African Editors Forum, said, that “when you look around this room, the first impression that you get is that not that it is a discussion on press freedom, but that it is a prison.”
“It’s time we got together and told those who are beating us up to stop doing so,” Diallo said.
The media organizations jointly called on African political leaders to immediately release all media professionals in prison, to end the impunity when journalists and media professionals are attacked in the course of their work, to re-open all media outlets shut down by government commands, and to allow exiled journalists to return to their home countries.
Baglo, the African Director of the International Federation of Journalists, also called on journalists to report more aggressively on the persecution of their colleagues.
Ghana has been a leader in the realm of press freedom, Baglo said.
The repeal of the Criminal Libel Law by President Kufuor in August 2001 ushered in a new era of freedom for Ghana’s journalists.
In their most recent Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders placed Ghana among the top ten African countries. Ghana is ranked sixth, after South Africa, Benin, Mauritius Madagascar and Cape Verde.
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Quoting Nkrumah, Baglo urged Ghanaian journalists to use their freedom to advance the cause of journalists across the continent.
“Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of the continent,” Nkrumah said.
The press conference was sponsored by the International Federation of Journalists in collaboration with the Network of African Freedom of Expression Organisations, the West African Journalists Association, the Ghana Journalists Association, the Media Foundation for West Africa, the Centre for Research Education and the Development of Rights in Africa, and the All Africa Editors Forum.

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