30 October, 2019
ACHPR65: Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa
65th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Item 8: Activity report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa
Honourable Chairperson, distinguished Commissioners, State delegates, representatives of National Human Rights Institutions and non-governmental organisations,
Defend Defenders (The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) welcomes the opportunity to highlight issues pertinent to freedom of expression and access to information in our sub region. The right to freedom of expression and access to information is one of the most restricted rights on the continent, and yet is the cornerstone of any democracy. According to Reporters Without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index, most of the countries under our mandate score poorly with regards to press freedom. Only Ethiopia significantly improved its ranking following Prime Minister Abiy’s reforms and policy moves.
In Burundi, most independent radio stations are still closed with many journalists still in exile. Those in country continue to face severe restrictions for being critical. For instance, in June 2019, Radio Internationale (RFI), TV5 Monde, and le Monde were targeted for conducting an interview with Marguerite Barankitse, an exiled human rights defender. On October 22, four journalists working with a privately-owned newspaper- Iwacu were arrested for covering a clash between security forces and assailants allegedly from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We welcome the communication made by the Eritrean delegation to this session on various legal reforms the country has engaged on. We therefore call on Eritrea to fulfil its obligations under the African charter by implementing the various decisions and resolutions of this Commission. Further, we call on the Eritrean government to allow the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to information, and subsequently the Commission to visit the country.
Tanzania’s increasingly repressive legal framework further curtails the right to free expression, particularly the Electronic and Postal Communications Act, Online Content Regulations, Cyber Crimes Act, Statistics Act and the Media Services Act – whose key provisions were struck down by the East African Court of Justice, this year. Tanzania should amend contentious provisions of these laws in line with international human rights standards.
Honourable Commissioner, we urge you to popularise the Declaration of freedom of expression in Africa and call on member states to adopt its provisions as a benchmark for promoting and protecting the right to freedom of expression and access to information.