By Joyce Chimbi
The new year brought bad news for press freedom on the African continent with the brutal murder of one journalist and the suspicious death of another.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Africa program head Angela Quintal said that to start the year with the death of at least two top journalists in one week was very bad news and is hopefully not an ominous sign for the year ahead.
“The brutal murder of Cameroonian journalist Martinez Zogo who was abducted, tortured, and killed in the capital, Yaounde, and the suspicious death in a road accident of John Williams Ntwali, the independent and outspoken Rwandan journalist in Kigali, has left the media community reeling, I feel punch-drunk, and it’s only the start of the year,” said Quintal.
The African Editors Forum (TAEF) also expressed shock, anger, and outrage over these deaths and planned to make representations to the governments of Rwanda and Cameroon to “demand full public reports on the circumstances leading to their deaths.”
Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. In 2022 alone, CPJ documented at least six journalists killed in sub-Saharan Africa and confirmed that four of them, Ahmed Mohamed Shukur and Mohamed.
Isse Hassan in Somalia and Evariste Djailoramdji and Narcisse Oredje in Chad, were killed in connection to their work.
“In these four cases, the journalists were killed either on dangerous assignments or crossfire in relation to their work. We continue to investigate the death in Kenya of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif and Jean Saint-Clair Maka Gbossokotto in the Central African Republic to determine whether their deaths are in connection to their journalism,” Quintal said.
Quintal said Somalia continues to top CPJ’s Global Impunity Index as the worst country where “the killers of journalists invariably walk free, and there is no accountability or justice for their deaths.”
In 2022, six journalists were killed in connection to their work: Abdiaziz Mohamud Guled and Jamal Farah Adan in Somalia, David Beriain and Roberto Fraile in Burkina Faso, Joel Mumbere Musavuli in DRC, and Sisay Fida in Ethiopia. This is the same number of journalists killed in 2021.
Quintal said Sisay’s death was the first confirmed case since 1998 that a journalist was killed in Ethiopia. CPJ continues to investigate the death of Dawit Kebede Araya in Ethiopia in 2021 to determine whether it was related to journalism.
“By far, most journalists who have been killed are local reporters. Of the six in 2021, two Russian journalists were murdered in Burkina Faso, and we continue to investigate the killing last year in Kenya of Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif to determine whether the motive was related to journalism,” Quintal added.
“The years 2022 and 2021 saw the most journalists killed annually since 2015 when CPJ documented at least 11 killed, and I pray that we not going to see a return to the dark days of double-digit killings. One journalist killed is one journalist too many.”
Quintal decries the levels of impunity and the failure of governments to ensure justice for the majority of killed journalists and their families—a trend mirrored elsewhere in the world.”
Globally, according to CPJ’s 2022 annual report, the killings of journalists rose nearly 50 percent amid lawlessness and war, and in 80 percent of these, there has been complete impunity.
“This illustrates a steep decline in press freedom globally, something that we also see in terms of record figures in the number of jailed journalists globally. The year 2022 saw the highest number of jailed journalists around the world in 30 years. With a record-breaking 363 journalists behind bars as of December 1, 2022,” Quintal stresses.
CPJ’s editorial director Arlene Getz notes, “in a year marked by conflict and repression, authoritarian leaders double down on their criminalization of independent reporting, deploying increasing cruelty to stifle dissenting voices and undermine press freedom.”
Against this chilling backdrop, Quintal tells IPS that short-term solutions include the political will from governments, matched by the necessary financial and human resources, to arrest, prosecute and convict those guilty of crimes against journalists.
“It is time governments walk the talk … This would send a clear signal that there will be consequences for harming a journalist.”
There is also an urgent need to invest in digital and physical safety training for journalists and emergency visas for journalists in distress.
“This is where the international community can play an important role. Diplomatic missions in countries where journalists are threatened by those in power, for example, can assist local journalists who need to relocate in an emergency,” she said.
“Governments must carry out thorough, independent investigations to stem violence against journalists, and there must be political and economic consequences for those who fail to carry out proper investigations that meet international standards.”
Long-term solutions, she adds, include countries establishing and investing resources in special mechanisms to protect journalists, such as those in places like Mexico. But she warns that they have not lived up to their promise, largely because of a lack of resources, capacity, and political will.
Governments must also prioritize protection, credible investigations, and justice. Where local governments fail, “foreign states should also look at universal jurisdiction to pursue those accused of murdering journalists — in the same way Germany is prosecuting a member of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh’s hit squad responsible for the assassination of The Point editor Dedya Hydara.”
TAEF continues to mourn these deaths, mount pressure on relevant governments to answer the growing list of journalists killed, and deliver justice for the affected in promoting press freedom.
IPS UN Bureau Report