It is fairly well known that the last couple of years in Zimbabwe have seen an increasingly harsh crackdown on journalists and newspapers, local and foreign, critical of President Mugabe’s brutal and desperate attempts to remain in power. According to Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders – RSF), an organisation dedicated to protecting the free press in the world, in 2001, twenty local journalists were arrested and three foreign correspondents expelled in Zimbabwe, in addition to the general intimidation. What is not so well known, or is easy to forget, is that the struggle for a press free from intimidation and coercion, in the rest of the African continent, is a continuous one.
North east of Zimbabwe, in Eritrea, all privately owned publications were suspended in September 2001 because they “were putting the unity of the country in danger,” and a number of journalists fled, if they weren’t locked up in jail already. In Equatorial Guinea, an independent media hardly exists and is constantly harassed; self-censorship amongst the government media is rife. The Paris-based RSF (http://www.rsf.org), have a list of 9 other so-called “Predators” of press freedom in Africa; leaders of Angola, Burkina Faso, DRC, Ethiopia, Libya, Rwanda, Swaziland, Togo and Tunisia, who they see as the main culprits in the consistent clampdown on those local journalists who don’t parrot the official line. Although other countries and their leaders may not be on the list, they are still capable of repression.
The last few weeks have been no exception. According to RSF, an independent newspaper, African Champion, was closed down in Sierra Leone, because it criticised the son of the President. A privately owned radio station, West Africa Democracy Radio, was refused a licence for reasons of “national security,” because it would have a range capable of reaching Liberia and Guinea. In Gabon, the weeklies Misamu and Gabaon were suspended for three months for publishing news “that undermines confidence in the state and the dignity of those responsible for the republic’s institutions.” In the Democratic Republic of Congo, two managers of the Alerte Plus newspaper, Raymond Kabala and Delly Bonsange, were sentenced to twelve and six months in jail respectively, plus were handed fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, because of a false allegation they published about the death of a public official that was corrected by them the next day. In June, Hassan Bility, editor of the privately owned Liberian weekly newspaper, The Analyst, was arrested for allegedly plotting with rebel forces to kill President Charles Taylor. No charges have been laid and there has been no sign of him since.
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (http://www.cpj.org/), the Sudanese journalist Osman Merghani, a columnist for the Khartoum-based daily Al-Rai Al-Aam newspaper, was detained after he criticised the Sudanese government on Qatar-based al-Jazeera television station for pulling out of the Sudanese peace talks. In Niger, two journalists were detained after covering a mutiny of soldiers. And back in Zimbabwe, a private news production company, Voice of the People (VOP) Communications Trust, that had previously received undue attention from the police, had their offices bombed by unknown persons, all their equipment being destroyed.