Tanzania clamps down, Sudan backs down, and Cameroon uses COVID-19 to crush dissent
September in Africa: A free expression roundup produced by IFEX’s Regional Editor Reyhana Masters, based on IFEX member reports and news from the region.
#FIFAfrica goes virtual!
The opening day of this year’s virtual Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (#FIFAfrica20) was appropriately merged with the first official commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
The seventh edition of the annual three-day event, hosted by Collaboration on ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and Paradigm Initiative (PIN), brought stakeholders from in and out of Africa in the internet governance and online rights arenas, to discuss concerns and opportunities for advancing privacy, access to information, free expression, non-discrimination and the free flow of information online.
In a candid and fiery conversation, Ugandan academic and political activist Dr Stella Nyanzi and Kenyan author Nanjala Nyabola explored how technology is opening up opportunities for freedom of expression and why governments see this as a threat. “One of the things that the internet and technology have enabled is the ability for us to enter space democratically, for those of us who previously did not have a voice and could not reach particular audiences,” said Dr Nyanzi.
CIPESA took the opportunity to launch three reports: Access Denied: How Telecom Operators in Africa Are Failing Persons With Disabilities, Access Denied: Internet Access and the Right to Education in South Africa and the State of Internet Freedom in Africa 2020.
The closing session of #FIFAfrica2020 was used to officially introduce the African Internet Rights Alliance — a grouping of 9 continental civic society groups that will be working jointly on initiatives to promote privacy and data protection, access to information, and freedom of expression. AIRA was able to showcase its work while introducing itself to a wider audience.
Tanzania ramps up clampdown ahead of elections
With voting for presidential and general elections scheduled for the end of October, Tanzania’s electoral landscape has become even more contested terrain than usual.
While assuring citizens of free and fair elections for all parties, President John Magufuli and his government passed amendments to the Political Parties Act at the beginning of the year, which in essence gave sweeping powers over political parties to a government-appointed registrar .
Plans to pose a solid challenge to Magufuli went slightly off the rails for opposition presidential candidate Tundu Lissu, when the country’s National Electoral Commission suspended him from campaigning. The week-long suspension followed complaints lodged with the NEC by ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi and the National Reconstruction Alliance (NRC) that claimed Lissu had made unsubstantiated and seditious remarks.
Since March of this year the clampdown on the media and dissenting voices has been intensified. Journalists criticising government actions or policy position have been suspended or fired, while media outlets’ transgressions, in the eyes of the authorities, have earned them suspensions, temporary bans or fines.
As reported by Human Rights Watch, “regulations that have been adopted ban local broadcasters from working with foreign broadcasters without staff from the Tanzania Communications and Regulatory Authority or other government agency present. It [the government] has also adopted regulations that criminalize a broad range of social media and online posts, including those that support organizing demonstrations or that ‘promote homosexuality’.”
The government issued new Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2020 directly affecting online content production, hosting and dissemination. The regulations reinforce the licencing and taxation of bloggers, online discussion forums, and radio and television webcasters — which in turn represses online speech, privacy, and access to information.
These heightened restrictions were confirmed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who referred to the increasing repression of democratic and civic space, in what she described as “a deeply deteriorated environment for human rights.” She also made reference to the recent Miscellaneous Amendments Act (№3) of 2020 which she said “undermines strategic litigation and seeks to block government accountability for human rights violations.”
Cameroon’s broad bans
Authorities announced a ban on demonstrations after Maurice Kamto, leader of the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC), called on citizens to demand the resignation of President Paul Biya. The brutal response by security forces who were deployed in anticipation of these protests was condemned by several rights organisations.
Fatou Jagne Senghore, regional director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa, said: “It is unacceptable that the security forces used lethal force against peaceful protesters […] The authorities must investigate these human rights violations and explain why one of the protesters died and others were injured and ill-treated. The authorities must ensure that those suspected to be responsible are brought to justice.”
Journalists covering the protests were not spared.
While seeking shelter in a shop and preparing for a live broadcast, Radio France Internationale correspondent Polycarpe Essomba received a violent blow to the back of his neck, while cameraman for Équinoxe TV, Rodrigue Ngassi was assaulted by a policeman. Both Agence France-Presse correspondent Reinnier Kaze and Essomba had their equipment confiscated. Lindovi Ndjio, a journalist with the newspaper la Nouvelle Expression, and William Omer Tchuisseu of the daily La Voix du Centre, left the area to avoid being attacked.
In a statement, Reporters Without Borders has declared that “in view of the extent and growing frequency of gross violations of press freedom in recent months, RSF has stepped up warnings and referrals to international organizations.”
Sudanese artists still at risk, post the revolution
International condemnation and mounting pressure seem to have pushed Sudanese authorities into releasing acclaimed Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka, artists Duaa Tarig Mohamed Ahmed, Abdel Rahman Mohamed Hamdan, Ayman Khalaf Allah Mohamed Ahmed, and Ahmed Elsadig Ahmed Hammad two weeks after being sentenced to two months in prison and fined USD $90 for ‘public annoyance and disruption of public safety’.
Kuka, the director of films ‘Beats of the Antonov’ and ‘aKasha’, was arrested along with ten other artists in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, after their play rehearsal was disrupted by a group accusing the creatives of making noise. While in detention the artists were assaulted, denied medical attention and visitors, and were not permitted to file a report about the police brutality.
Although the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir was washed away by a sea of sustained popular protests in 2019, the habits of that regime are still in force. As pointed out by HRW, the contested arrests “underscore how police, prosecutors, and judges are still operating as they did under former president Omar al-Bashir, using vague provisions that give wide discretionary powers for authorities to restrict basic rights and freedoms.”
Gender in focus
Health awareness FBI style
Nigerian female bikers have teamed up with a Lagos based charity, Sebeccly Cancer Care, to raise awareness about breast and cervical cancer while encouraging women to go for testing. The excessive attention they received every time they went out riding 0 most likely for shattering stereotypes — pushed the all-female Nigerian biker group D’Angels to focus on doing good, and this gave birth to the Female Bikers Initiative (FBI).
Nigerian rights activist and the founder of She Writes Woman, Hauwa Ojeifo, was awarded the Bill and Melinda Gates 2020 Goalkeepers Global Changemaker Award in recognition of her work providing psychosocial support to gender-based violence survivors.
Ugandan human rights and political activist Barbara Allimadi kicked off The Tribute Gallery — an amazing initiative by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) honouring 450 courageous feminists and activists from all regions of the world.
Chad’s regulatory body — the High Authority for Audiovisual Media (HAMA) suspended 12 newspapers for 3 months after accusing them of breaking the law. They were cited for failing to observe the requirement that publishers and editors be trained in journalism and have at least three years’ higher education. HAMA has said that the publications must comply with these requirements during their suspension, or face “tougher sanctions.” The head of the Chadian Human Rights League, Max Loalngar, has called the suspension a “shame” for the country, and called on HAMA to give the newspapers time to adjust to the new law.
In less than six months since it was launched, the Mail and Guardian’s offshoot The Continent was awarded Best News Website or Mobile Service in the prestigious 2020 WAN-IFRA African Digital Media Awards. In an economically challenging environment, the digital pan-African publication, generated out of the COVID-19 pandemic era, has exponentially grown in popularity on WhatsApp, where it is shared as a PDF document. Upon hearing of the win, The Continent editor Simon Allison tweeted: “Less than 6 months ago, @siphokings and I had the mad idea to start a pan-African newspaper in the middle of a pandemic. Now @thecontinent_ is an award winning publication that is distributed in 81 countries.”
Ellen Mlambo, editor of Zimbabwe’s Chipinge Times, received threatening messages over an article her newspaper carried on the land dispute between two ruling party politicians.
On 10 September, the 5 month ordeal experienced by Zimbabwean journalists Frank Chikowore and Sam Takawira as they went back and forth to court, came to an end when they were acquitted on charges of breaching COVID-19 regulations after the State failed to prove its case.
The renewed order by the Uganda Communications Commission for online publishers and broadcasters to apply for licences before they operate presents a grave threat to freedom of expression and citizens’ right of access to information.
Originally published at https://ifex.org on October 6, 2020.