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CPJ tracking over 100 media freedom violation cases in Africa linked to COVID-19

Tuesday, 21st April, 2020

MBABANE: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) based in New York, the United States of America (USA) is tracking over 100 media freedom violation cases in Africa linked to COVID-19, Angela Quintal, the African Program Coordinator told this Swaziland News.

The Coordinator said the harassment and intimidation that journalists experience in Liberia was a trend that they were tracing throughout the Sub-Saharan Africa amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“The harassment and intimidation that journalists have experienced in Liberia is a trend that we are tracking throughout sub-Saharan Africa amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Liberia is not alone. We have more than 100 examples of media freedom violations since we began tracking these last month, including in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Madagascar, Niger, Cote d’ Ivoire, Uganda, Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and elsewhere. It appears security forces are emboldened by the fact that since a disaster or an emergency has been declared, civil liberties have been curtailed, and they have a licence to crackdown. We see this in repressive countries, but also in countries like South Africa, where police and the military are enforcing lockdowns or other COVID-related measures and in the process are violating the rights of citizens” she said.

Quintal said journalists were caught in the crosshairs even when governments have gazetted regulations stating that journalists are essential workers.   

“The brutality and media freedom violations that we have observed and documented are often an extension of, or an increase in, the threats, harassment, assaults, arrests and intimidation that journalists would ordinarily face in the normal course of their work on our continent. Citizens need credible and accurate information about this global, public health crisis, and journalists are key to this, but some law enforcement agencies appear hellbent on preventing this” said the Coordinator.

When asked to give numbers and most affected countries, she said Zimbabwean journalists seems to have a tough time compared to others in the continent.

“We have a big continent and the list is long as I indicated above. If you are looking for broad trends, I can say that Zimbabwean journalists appear to have had a particularly tough time. There have been arrests and detention and photographs have been deleted. I am aware of at least one journalist, who has been charged in relation to covering Zimbabwe’s lockdown.  We found, for example, that journalists were being detained because police claimed that they were operating without a valid press card. Zimbabwe’s Media Commission had stated publicly that 2019 press cards would be valid because it was still finalizing new fees and distributing the new cards. The Zimbabwean chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa was forced to go to court to interdict the police from harassing and intimidating journalists in the course of their work. Today, there was some good news. A court granted Misa a provisional order, interdicting police and other law enforcement agencies from arresting, detaining or interfering in “any unnecessary way” in the work of journalists. The court went further and ordered the Zimbabwe Media Commission to ensure its statement about the validity of the 2019 press cards be communicated within 12 hours to all police stations in the country. This is an important victory” she said  



CPJ tracking over 100 media freedom violation cases in Africa linked to COVID-19
CPJ Africa Coordinator Angela Quintal