9 May 2011

Campaigns and Advocacy

MISA statement to African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights

(MISA/IFEX) - 4 May 2011 - MISA submitted a statement to the 49th Ordinary Session of the African Commission for Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), held in Banjul, Gambia, 28 April to 12 May 2011:

Presented by Jacqueline Chikakano
Legal Officer, MISA Zimbabwe
On 4 May 2011

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), a regional media and free expression advocacy organization, wishes to express its sincere appreciation to the commissioners for affording us this opportunity to inform this august house on the prevailing situation regarding the state of media freedom in Southern Africa.

The enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression in Southern Africa remains under serious threat, particularly due to repressive legal regimes which are being used as a tool to justify the persecution of journalists and citizens under the guise of due process. Lack of political will to put in place effective measures that enhance the protection and enjoyment of this right, is a common problem particularly in Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

In Swaziland, the right to free expression is increasingly under threat. On 25 March 2011, Prime Minister Sibusiso Dlamini told senators that his government would track down, arrest, and prosecute people who have been expressing themselves on the social network website Facebook, as they are deemed critical of the government. A citizen, Mr Gandandza Masilela, was one of the specified persons set to be prosecuted for expressing himself on Facebook. On 7 April 2011, the prime minister banned protest marches planned for 12-15 April 2011 across Swaziland's major cities, further hampering the citizens' right to express themselves. Addressing a press conference from his office in Mbabane, the prime minister declared the protest marches illegal and warned that security forces would "deal" with anyone participating in the marches.

On 12 April 2011, protestors who defied the ban were brutally assaulted by the police who also used teargas and water cannons to disperse the anti-government protestors. Local and international journalists who were covering the demonstrations were also assaulted and had their equipment confiscated by the security forces.

In Tanzania, threats to media freedom and the harassment of journalists continue unabated. In November 2010, two newspapers, "Mwananchi" and "Mwanahalisi", received warning letters from the Department of Information Services ordering them to stop publishing information the authorities deemed to be inciting. On 26 January 2011, Munir Zakaria, a journalist with Zanzibar's channel ten T.V, was attacked and seriously beaten up by a group of Zanzibar Municipal policemen. Restrictive laws such as the Public Service Act, and the National Security legislation, continue to severely hamper media freedom, access to information and freedom of expression.

In Zimbabwe, no legislative reforms have been made and the repressive legislative framework remains intact, severely hampering the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom through laws such as the Access to information and protection of privacy act. This is despite the fact that some of its provisions have been deemed inconsistent with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights by this very Commission.

Criminal defamation charges or threats thereof, which are enshrined in laws such as the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, are instilling self-censorship in citizens and journalists alike. The arrest and detention of Golden Maunganidze of the "Masvingo Mirror" on allegations of criminal defamation in February 2011, is a noteworthy case.

Political violence and intolerance is also increasing and threatens the viability of independent media in Zimbabwe, examples being the destruction of copies of the "Masvingo Mirror" and the "Newsday" papers in February and March 2010 by suspected political activists. On 12 March 2011, vendors of the "Newsday" paper were reportedly threatened with eviction from their market stalls if they were seen with copies of that newspaper.

Incidences of arrests, detention and harassment of journalists continue to occur in Zimbabwe with over six cases being recorded, and over seven journalists being affected since November 2010. The arrest and ongoing prosecution of Alpha Media employees, Nqobani Ndhlovu and Nevanji Madanhire, since November 2010 over a story they wrote and which was published in their paper, is an example.

The talk of an imminent election this year has also heightened the threat to freedom of expression for the citizens of Zimbabwe. An example is the arrest and ongoing prosecution of a citizen, Vikas Mavhudzi, since February 2011 for expressing his thoughts over Facebook, regarding the Egyptian uprisings.

We therefore call upon the Commission to:
- Urge the Southern African governments to guarantee the safety and freedom of journalists, as well as the right of all to express themselves free from threats, harassment, intimidation and arrests.
- Increase its efforts in urging in particular the governments of Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Swaziland to prioritise putting in place comprehensive media reforms, which include repealing all repressive media and insult laws and their replacement with democratic legislation that conforms to the African Charter.
- Urge these governments to establish independent media regulatory boards and self-regulatory mechanisms that will engender free and ethical media activity as well as enhance access to information through multiple sources of information.
- Urge the governments of Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Swaziland to guarantee freedom of expression on the Internet.


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