Decades after many governments across the continent loosened control over broadcasters and publishers, the media industry is under threat.
The Journal of Democracy has noted that new laws are resulting in the imprisonment of journalists and closure of media houses, while internet shutdowns and ‘social-media taxes’ are increasingly common strategies to limit the mobilising and informational potentials of digital technologies.
Legalbrief reports that the situation is particularly worrying in Zimbabwe which is experiencing major political and economic turbulence. Violent attacks on journalists, student leaders and other voices happening in full view of the police in that country paint a worrying image of the country’s ever-declining humanitarian situation.
Human Rights Watch Southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga told the Daily Maverick that ‘the vicious physical attacks on journalists doing their job and the total failure by police to arrest these attackers clearly shows that the Mnangagwa Government is only paying lip service to freedom of expression’.
Mavhinga said Zimbabwe was fast gaining a reputation as a state that ‘disregards human rights and the rule of law in ways perhaps worse than seen under the previous administration of Robert Mugabe’. At least six journalists were assaulted on 18 September by unidentified assailants while they were covering a press conference by Zimbabwe National Students’ Union president Takudzwa Ngadziore in Harare. Ngadziore was arrested on 10 September after leading a protest against the alleged abduction by state agents of journalism student Tawanda Muchehiwa. Full Daily Maverick report
Zimbabwean human rights defender Thandekile Moyo says the public believes that the recent arrest of award-winning journalist Hopewell Chin’ono is because he was one of the journalists who exposed looting of Covid-19 funds, ‘scuppering a $60m deal that would allegedly have benefited, among others, President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his sons’.
In a Daily Maverick analysis, he notes that the Central Intelligence Organisation, the judiciary, the Department of Prisons, the army and the police have been completely captured by Zanu-PF. ‘Instead of serving and protecting the people of Zimbabwe, they are being used to oppress us,’ he writes. Full Daily Maverick analysis
Tanzania goes to the polls on 28 October for the fifth general election since the re-introduction of the multi-party system in the country in 1992. While President John Magufuli, who took office in 2015, has pledged a peaceful and credible process, the poll comes amid concerns of narrowing freedoms and increasing authoritarianism.
In a Daily Maverick analysis, Tatenda Mazarura notes that Magufuli has been accused of cracking down on political dissent and freedom of speech in a desperate bid to tighten his grip on political power, a situation that has worsened as the election draws closer.
‘Reports indicate shrinking civic and democratic space, information manipulation and restriction of freedom of expression, association and assembly. Newspapers have been shut down, journalists are being harassed and arrested, the opposition is being persecuted and arrested and the work of NGOs has been severely restricted. Protests, anonymous blogging and criticism of Parliament have all been outlawed. This has heightened fears that the looming vote’s credibility will be compromised.’
Mazarura points out that in the absence of a conducive operating environment for political parties, candidates, civil society and the media, the people of Tanzania risk having their right to freely participate in the elections compromised. Full Daily Maverick analysis
The Media Foundation for West Africa has called on the authorities in Guinea to release political activist Souleymane Condé and ensure that the rights of citizens to freedom of assembly and expression are respected at all times.
Conde, a Guinean citizen who recently arrived in Conakry from the US to launch a new pro-opposition political movement, was arrested on 12 September shortly after he held a press conference to launch this movement. Previously, he was the coordinator of the Front national pour la defense de la Constitution (FNDC), formed in 2019 to coordinate opposition to President’s Alpha Conde’s now successful bid to change the Constitution in order to seek a third term in office. The FNDC has also strongly condemned the arrest. Statement
And Algerian journalist Khaled Drareni has denied a string of charges against him, insisting that he was just doing his job in a case seen as a barometer of press freedoms in the country.
A report on the News24 site notes that he is appealing a three-year jail term handed down in August for his coverage of the Algerian protests.
‘From the first day, all I did was do my job as a journalist. I am here because I covered the “Hirak” (movement) in all independence,’ he told the court. The editor of the Casbah Tribune was convicted of ‘inciting an unarmed gathering’ and ‘endangering national unity’ with his coverage of the year-long demonstrations that ousted long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year.