Amnesty International says press freedom under attack across East and Southern Africa as national leaders “suppress truths and intimidate journalists”

The past year has seen a “blatant attack on independent journalism” across East and Southern Africa with journalists systematically targeted and dissent silenced, Amnesty International said in a new report on Monday.

“What we have witnessed in the past year, as far as media and journalistic freedom is concerned, can only be described as a dark period,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

The importance of access to information has increased over the past year in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and widespread humanitarian crises. Yet, national authorities across the region have regularly taken steps to suppress truths and intimidate journalists.

“This blatant attack on independent journalism across the region – sends a chilling message that dissent and the uncovering of uncomfortable truths will not be tolerated. National authorities across East and Southern Africa must stop this roll back of media freedoms and ensure that media professionals are safe and protected to do their job,” said Muchena.

The Amnesty International report offers synopses on the state of journalistic freedom in seven East and Southern African nations: Angola, Burundi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

In Mozambique, a media house was petrol-bombed four days after publishing an investigative story alleging unethical behavior from government officials and politically connected individuals.

In both Angola and Zambia, the governments suspended the licenses of multiple television channels, resulting in the losses of hundreds of jobs.

In Burundi, four journalists have been released after over a year of imprisonment for allegedly threatening state security in their method of reporting clashes in Bubanza province. While their release is a positive development, Amnesty International warns that severe restrictions on media continue.

Journalists in Somalia, Zimbabwe, and other East and Southern African countries have faced widespread harassment, intimidation, assault, and arbitrary arrests.

Madagascar authorities have issued a decree banning all forms of media that “threaten public order and security, damage national unity or encourage civil disobedience”, a broad and arbitrarily defined standard that is likely to hinder journalistic freedom.

While many governmental authorities in East and Southern African countries have assured the public that freedom of the press is important, there is a continual suppression of the truth and journalism remains a very dangerous profession.

When analyzing the state of journalism in East and Southern Africa, a clear pattern emerges. Journalists are not protected by the authorities and are systematically targeted for simply doing their jobs.

Deprose Muchena explains, “A vibrant, independent and free press is the cornerstone of any free society.” As the people of many African nations hope for a freer and better tomorrow, progress can only be made if the free expression of information and ideas is not only respected but protected.

As Monday marks World Press Freedom Day, there is much to be optimistic about. However, the fight for journalistic freedom and democratic values continues. A government cannot possibly be considered upstanding and honorable where dissent is silenced and journalistic freedom is oppressed.

A great deal can be learned about a nation’s authorities by how they treat their journalists. A society cannot possibly thrive without the free and open exchange of information.

While there is great potential for progress throughout East and Southern Africa, steps must be taken to honor and prioritize journalistic freedom if the region is to become more just and equitable.

“Authorities must do more than pay lip service to freedom of expression. They must protect journalists, guarantee media freedom and provide a remedy for those journalists whose rights have been violated,” said Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International.

Noah Pitcher is a global politics correspondent for Today News Africa covering the U.S. government, United Nations, African Union, and other actors involved in international developments, political controversies, and humanitarian issues.

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