At least 66 journalists 'languishing in African jails' – media watchdog

Cape Town – At least 262 journalists have been jailed for doing their job around the world, and 66 of these, are in Africa - as of December 1, says a media watchdog. 

According to a Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) prison census 2017 report, as of December 1, sub Saharan countries had arrested at least 39 journalists, while north African countries had arrested 27.

The north African power house, Egypt, remained at number 1 in Africa, with at least 20 journalists in its prisons, while Eritrea with 16 came in in second place.

A surprise inclusion on the list of countries that had arrested journalists was Uganda at number 3 after it arrested at least 8 red pepper reporters in November.

Speaking during an interview with News24, Angela Quintal, who is the CPJ Africa programme co-ordinator said that such a development in Africa was against the tenets of democracy and the African Union's press freedom declaration.

'Something to fear'

"We have many government laws that seek to close down democratic spaces. They are many cyber laws that African countries are introducing to clamp down on journalists. Those laws most often are broad and are against the principles of democracy as well as the African Union declaration," said Quintal.

Quintal said that they were many African leaders who presented the media as "something to fear" and they were against press freedoms.

She said that this was an issue of concern, not only for media practitioners, but for everyone who was often targeted by various African governments.

Said Quintal: "Journalist have the power of holding governments accountable. This is one of the reasons why too many governments are against journalists. Ethiopia for example, is the home of the African Union headquarters, but look at how it is violating journalists' rights. They are many other countries which are doing exactly the same, and others are just quite and not speaking up."

Lowest level 

The CPJ report indicated that the political standoff in the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC) under President Joseph Kabila had also quickly escalated the arrest of journalists, with at least five  journalists believed to be in custody.

Meanwhile, although it had released at least 11 journalists the previous year, Ethiopia remained among the worst jailers, with five reporters in the country's prisons. At least four journalists were anguishing Moroccan jails, while Algeria had two reporters behind bars .

Cameroon, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea, Congo Brazzaville, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia all had at least one reporter inside their prisons. 

The report said that media freedom around the world had fallen to the lowest level for at least a decade, with journalists being threatened by government censorship, organised crime and commercial pressures caused by the growth of the internet.

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