World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.
Press freedom is today facing new threats in major democracies as well as in repressive states, where authorities are focusing their efforts on social media and other online platforms after subduing the independence of major print and broadcast outlets. Several years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared the right of every person “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” that right remains a privilege of a select few and under covert attack is some African countries.
A free and responsible media is the guarantor for social and economic progress and sustainable development. The right of the press to collect, report and disseminate information is a vital factor of transparent and accountable governance. Today serves as an occasion to reflect on the dangers under which the press work to guarantee a safe democracy for us all – it is a period to bring to the attention of a civilized society the violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.
Findings of Freedom House’s most recent Freedom in the World, Freedom on the Net, and Nations in Transit research projects and from its in-country programs—shows that media independence is under pressure in every region of the world Across, Africa, particularly in North, Central and West Africa, from Egypt to Cameroon and from Liberia to Togo, the onslaught of attacks against journalists continues unabated with arbitrary arrests and assaults on media workers while they are covering protests or otherwise exercising their right to freedom of expression
A total of 262 reporters were put behind bars for their work in 2017, a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), with Egypt ranking 3rd globally with 20 cases. Since May 2017, Egyptian authorities have blocked hundreds of websites for allegedly “supporting terrorism,” including news sources, VPN sites, personal blogs, and the websites of nonprofit organizations.
In Morocco, a number of citizen and online journalists were imprisoned during a crackdown on protests around the northern city of Al-Hoceima in the summer of 2017, and in August a court sentenced video blogger Mohamed Taghra to 10 months in jail on charges of criminal defamation for publishing a YouTube video on local police corruption. In response to growing protests in Anglophone regions of Cameroon, the government blocked messaging and social media applications and shut down internet service for 93 days in 2017. Security forces have harassed and intimidated journalists, and the National Communications Council imposed a ban on political reporting and programming. Eight journalists and directors at Uganda’s Red Pepper newspaper were arrested, and the publication was briefly shut down in November 2017 as its editors stood trial for treason. A reporter for New Vision was abducted outside his office in February 2018, apparently as part of the government’s sustained effort to intimidate media critics. In Togo, the authorities shut down the internet for nine days in September 2017 amid opposition-led protests, disrupting the organization of the protest and impeding the work of human rights defenders and journalists who were monitoring the protests. In Chad, the authorities continued to block access to websites and blogs critical to the government. Since mid-March 2018, access to social media platforms and messaging services including WhatsApp is restricted. People could only access them by using a virtual private network (VPN).
These reports send an alarming signal about the threats we face when governments are left to act arbitrarily to muzzle press freedoms. What is more worrying is the silence of the African Union (AU) on these checkered acts of these authoritarian regimes. We must be mindful that when journalists are intimidated, attacked or imprisoned, democracy suffers.
The students and youth of the African Continent wish to use today to pay special tribute to those journalists who have sacrificed their lives, freedom or personal well-being in pursuit of their work.
We therefore call upon the Government of Egypt and all other governments to respect their commitment to press freedom by recognizing the vital role of a free press and taking the necessary steps to create societies in which independent journalists can operate freely and without fear. The culture of impunity and incessant attacks on the press must not be allowed to flourish in any country in Africa and the global world for that matter.
The All-Africa Students Union (AASU), on this occasion, hails the press for its crucial role to promote democratic values and enlighten their citizenry with adequate information to promote and defend their rights and interests.
Long live Press Freedom in Africa!
-ALL AFRICA STUDENTS UNION (AASU)