Journalists targeted amid ongoing media crackdown in East and Southern Africa — Amnesty International

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By Staff Reporter

AS the world celebrated Press Freedom Day yesterday, East and Southern Africa continued to impose severe restrictions on the right to free expression and media freedom over the past year, Amnesty International (AI) has reported.

The human rights organisation documented widespread intimidation, harassment and detention of journalists in countries throughout the region.

In its report, AI said authorities continued to target and brutally crackdown on those who dared to report on corruption allegations and human rights violations.

“Threats to the right to freedom of expression and the media continued unabated across the East and Southern Africa region over the past year.

“Speaking out against or scrutinising government policies, actions or inaction, or publicly sharing information deemed damaging to the government carried the risk of arrest, arbitrary detention, or death,” AI Regional director for East and Southern Africa, Tigere Chagutah said.

The human rights watchdog also recorded increased intentional disruption of internet connectivity and the enactment of tough cyber security laws aimed at silencing the media and controlling information dissemination.

Across East and Southern Africa, authorities used national security laws, including counter terrorism and cyber-security legislation to undermine the right to freedom of expression, punish journalists and suppress media freedom.

It stated that in February, the Zimbabwean authorities barred two journalists from covering government functions in Midlands province.

“Midlands Minister of State and Devolution Affairs (Owen Ncube) singled out Sydney Mubaiwa (Mirror Midlands bureau chief) and NewsDay’s Stephen Chadenga who were at a meeting organised by the Gender Commission and ordered them not to attend future government engagements.

“In May, Zimbabwe enacted the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Amendment Act (Patriot Act) which threatens media freedom as it criminalises wilfully injuring the sovereignty and national interest of Zimbabwe.”

Journalists who attend a meeting where there is “reason to believe” that its aim is “to consider or plan armed intervention” might be charged even when they only attend for the purpose of reporting, Amnesty added.

Other countries named for violating media freedom by hiding behind the law to silence journalists included Madagascar, South Sudan, DRC, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho, Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi and Mozambique.