With the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, and the ever-growing challenges confronting Africa as a continent, it is still worrying to know that press freedom remains a major issue in most African countries.
Despite the many campaigns for press freedom, reports of journalists being harassed in the line of duty has been on the increase, with most cases linked to the lockdown order in cities across Africa.
The release of the annual world press freedom index by international press freedom watchdog, Reporters without Borders, places Namibia in the position of the press freedom champion in the continent.
However, the story is not same in other countries, with series of reports of journalists coming under attack, which have been linked to the recent lockdown in cities across Africa.
Reports from Kenya say The Nation Media Group cameraman was attacked by a police officer as he struggled to balance his camera. The incident happened on Friday March 27th, in Mombasa as the journalist was covering events moment before President Uhuru Kenyatta’s dusk to dawn curfew began.
“I was actually doing my work and it caught me by surprise in the brutality this policeman meted on me. I did not provoke him, and it was uncalled for,” Wainaina said
On April 1, 2020, officers of Algeria’s National Gendarmerie arrested three employees of the privately owned Essawt El-Akhar daily newspaper and interrogated them with regard to a story the paper published that day, about the COVID-19 pandemic, according to news reports and Abdelrahman Saleh, the employees’ lawyer, who spoke to Committee to Protect Journalist.
The officers detained a reporter, Meriem Cherfi, publications manager, Rafik Mouhoub, and editor-in-chief Mohamed Lamari for about two hours at the gendarmerie headquarters in Algiers before releasing them without charge.
The three were interrogated about an article in Essawt El-Akhar alleging that the Pasteur Institute in Algiers, the main state facility dedicated to studying COVID-19 in the city—had published incorrect test results from patients with the virus.
In Ghana, it was also reported how a group of Ghanaian soldiers attacked Yussif Abdul Ganiyu, on April 5th and briefly detained him. Yussif, is a reporter with the German government-funded Deutsche Welle news agency and the local privately owned Zuria FM radio station. According to reports, Yussif was reporting on ditch cleaning efforts to combat COVID-19 when nearby soldiers enforcing lockdown measures called him over and the group’s leader, a female military official, slapped him and asked him why he had criticized the military.
Furthermore, on April 10, soldiers enforcing pandemic restrictions assaulted Samuel Adobah, a journalist with the privately owned TV Africa broadcaster, while he was reporting on a fire in the Ablekuma district of the Greater Accra region, in Ghana.
Tanzanian authorities on 20 April suspended Talib Ussi Hamad, a journalist with the Tanzania Daima daily newspaper, for six months simply for reporting on COVID-19, the latest in a string of attacks on the right to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom during the pandemic.
Talib Hamad’s suspension comes just days after the Mwananchi daily newspaper had its online license suspended after it posted a photo of President John Pombe Magufuli out on shopping, surrounded by a crowd of people, eliciting online discussion on the country’s approach to addressing COVID-19.
Another recent case was the action of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state in Nigeria, who ordered the arrest of Chijioke Agwu of The Sun Newspapers, while his LGA chairman arrested Peter Okutu of Vanguard Newspapers. The two journalists were banned for life from covering government activities in the state.
Not only did the governor stop at that, he was also quoted instigating residents of the state to attack the journalists.
In the speech he was quoted addressing the journalists, “If you think you have the pen, we have the koboko. Let’s leave the court alone. Ebonyi people are very angry with the press and let me warn that I won’t be able to control them or know when they unleash mayhem on you, if you continue to write to create panic in the state.”
These reports reveal how journalists are constantly abused by security personnel who are expected to protect them in the line of duty.
With the pandemic threatening, the only means of sensitization and public awareness remains the media. As information plays a very significant role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected that journalists are treated with utmost respect and duly protected and not harassed.
We will not relent in our pursuit of a healthy working environment for journalists, and access to information, therefore we call on authorities, and heads of government to take interest in the safety of reporters at every Point in the discharge of their duties.
All stakeholders must be more united to ensure that the public has access to the right information which is crucial at a time like this.
Programme Officer (Press Freedom)
Africa Media Development Foundation (AMDF)
Kaduna – Nigeria