US secretary of state Hillary Clinton should stress the need to respect press freedom during her talks with government officials on the seven-nation African tour she has just begun in Kenya, Reporters Without Borders said today.
“We welcome the US secretary of state’s decision to accord Africa a tour of this length,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We share her interest in combating corruption and we would like to stress that this requires defending press freedom. A journalist who exposes kickbacks, fraud or embezzlement in Africa is immediately harassed, arrested or even jailed.”
The press freedom organisation added: “This tour offers the United States a chance to send a strong signal to African leaders by insisting that they pledge to respect basic freedoms. It also offers a chance to send a message of encouragement to their citizens, who are often punished if they dare to express their views freely. It is regrettable that certain countries are not on the programme, such as Gambia, which has the worst press freedom situation in West Africa.”
On the first day of the Nairobi leg of her tour yesterday, Clinton urged African states to combat corruption and crime and to promote “good governance.” Before leaving the Kenyan capital, Reporters Without Borders thinks she should ensure that the authorities are deploying all possible resources to solve the murder of freelance journalist Francis Kainda Nyaruri, whose decapitated body was found in a forest in the southwest of the country on 29 January.
Shortly before his death, Nyaruri said he had been threatened by police officers whose behaviour he had criticised. “Only the arrest of both the perpetrators and instigators will serve to reassure Kenya’s journalists, who have been deeply traumatised by this appalling murder,” Reporters Without Borders said.
While in Nairobi, Clinton is also due to meet Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the president of Somalia’s transitional government, which has been weakened by the Islamist militia Al-Shabaab’s offensive. With 14 journalists killed since the start of 2007, Somalia is the deadliest country in Africa for the media and the US government should encourage the authorities to protect journalists.
While the arbitrary arrests, kidnappings and murders of journalists in Somalia are already extremely worrying, Clinton should bear mind that an Al-Shabaab victory over the government forces would have a dramatic impact on basic freedoms and especially freedom of the press.
After South Africa and Angola, Clinton will have an opportunity in Kinshasa to share her concern with President Joseph Kabila about the impunity enjoyed by those who killed Radio Okapi journalists Serge Maheshe and Didace Namujimbo in Bukavu (the capital of the eastern province of Sud-Kivu).
The trial of those who allegedly gunned down Maheshe on 13 June 2007 was a complete fiasco that has been denounced by many local and international human rights groups. The military court in charge of investigating the murder of Namujimbo, who was shot in the head on 21 November 2008, has yet to hold its first hearing.
Clinton’s talks in Nigeria with President Musa Yar'Adua will undoubtedly touch on the recent deadly clashes between the security forces and Islamist militants in the north of the country as well as Nigeria’s oil-fuelled powerhouse economy. She should also remind him that journalism is a dangerous profession in Nigeria.
Journalists are constantly the victims of street violence, heavy-handed raids and beatings by the police and the State Security Service, and arbitrary arrest by provincial governors, who often abuse their authority. After Gambia, Nigeria is the West African country that shows least respect for press freedom, according to the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
While on her way from Liberia to Cape Verde, the former First Lady would ideally detour via Banjul in order to tell Gambian President Yahya Jammeh how much his behaviour appals human rights activists and pro-democracy campaigners.
Seven journalists who are leading members of the Gambia Press Union are currently being harassed and prosecuted for criticising Jammeh. At the same time, he has been making provocative and threatening comments about journalists on the state-owned broadcaster GRTS and does not hesitate to throw leading figures in prison as if they were common bandits.
“Firm condemnation of this situation by Washington would have the merit of ending the deafening silence about Gambia’s human rights violations and would reassure the sizable Gambian diaspora in the United States,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The US intelligence services could also take the opportunity to release the information they have about the circumstances in which Deyda Hydara, the editor of the privately-owned newspaper The Point, was murdered in 2004,” Reporters Without Borders added. In the course of two detailed investigations into Hydara’s murder, the press freedom organisation found evidence indicating that President Jammeh’s security services were involved.
Picture: Hillary Clinton with M. Wetangula, Kenya's Foreign Affairs Minister (TSR)