Africa: Journalists Highlight the State of Human Rights With Their Lives
On Tuesday, World Press Freedom Day recounted some of the most horrific cases of human rights violations against journalists and media officials. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) marked the occasion by calling it a “great year for censorship,” ironically hailing the successes of 12 world leaders in suppressing media in their countries.
Africa was well-represented with three leaders making the list, but that doesn’t tell half the story – a fitting metaphor. Africa is home to some of the most dangerous countries in the world to work in the media. By doing their jobs and refusing to to be intimidated these journalists highlight the state of human rights with their lives.
Eritrea has been ranked as the world’s worst country for press freedom by RSF for the past eight years.
“Like everything else in Eritrea, the media is totally subject to the whim of President Issayas Afeworki, a predator of press freedom who has no plans to relax his grip,” the organisation says.
Eritrea has the most jailed journalists in Africa. Private media outlets were shut down in 2001 and their journalists jailed. many of those are feared to have died in prison since.
Sudan is the next lowest-ranking African contender of RSF’s list of press freedom and 2015 was a particularly poor year for the country. Security forces in the nation regularly shut down news publications that cover unapproved topics and try to cripple them financially.
Closely following Sudan is Djibouti, where media suppression takes a more physical approach.
“Journalists are constantly harassed and subjected to government-orchestrated intimidation campaigns and, when arrested, are often tortured before being released and then prosecuted,” says RSF.
Somalia is a country where journalists risk their lives every day. The constant threat of militant group Al-Shabaab puts media officials in danger on a daily basis – and that’s before government security forces come into the equation.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CTP) says 59 journalists have been killed in Somalia since 1992. Eighteen were killed in 2012 alone and three confirmed to have been killed in 2015. Journalists also face the risk of intimidation, arrest, kidnapping and torture in the conflict-ridden country.
Rwanda’s grip on its media is one that comes with a chilling silence. There’s no such thing as negative press coming out of the East African nation. However, diplomatic visits by UN officials, people who have fled the country and a select few accounts from former journalists have all but confirmed the truth behind the silence.
Journalists in Rwanda play a very important role and, if they don’t fulfill it correctly, the punishments can be severe. Intimidation, torture, detention and your life – the usual prices you can pay for making enemies as a reporter in many African nations.
Burundi erupted into violence in April 2015 and the job description for journalists instantly became more dangerous. Radio stations were attacked, grenades were thrown into journalists’ homes and many others were attacked for covering the nation’s civil conflict.
Journalists fled the country en masse, but those still remaining are stuck between various rebel groups and the nation’s oppressive government. As the Burundi crisis extends beyond its first year and the government’s grip on the media sector tightens, independent news sources from within the country become increasingly scarce.
Ethiopia joins Eritrea on the exclusive list of Africa’s most aggressive two countries for detaining journalists. Little changed in 2015 with a string of journalists and bloggers being arrested under terrorist laws that deem them a threat to national security.
Journalists in the country are given a simple choice: “self-censorship, harassment and arrest, or exile,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The world’s youngest nation has quickly become one of the most dangerous for journalists and media officers since descending into civil war in 2013. Seven journalists were killed in 2015 alone and many more detained or harassed.
Journalists in the country recently spoke of the difficulties they have in getting information from the government. It’s a landscape where journalists are isolated by distrust and bureaucratic procedures, preventing them from doing their job. Hopes for a better 2016 have improved, though, following a government reshuffle and efforts to restore peace in the troubled nation.