We have concrete grounds for calling on the African Union to focus its attention on the question of the respect of the right to freedom of expression. Journalists in Africa work under particularly hostile circumstances and, because of their important role in building and maintaining democracy, require recognition and protection.
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From: Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA),
Letter to "Extraordinary Summit of the African Union (AU) "
from the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA) .
Feb. 3, 2003
H.E. Mr. Amara Essy
Secretary General of African Union (AU)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Via Fax: 251-1-512622/3030
We would like to extend our best wishes to your excellency and through you
to the African heads of state and government, delegates and brothers and
sisters who are participating in the Extraordinary Summit of the African
Union (AU) due to be held from February 3-4/2003.
We are convinced that the present AU summit would perform tasks that would
have a major positive impact on the growth and development of the African
We hope that our newly established organization, AU would, among others,
focus on and discuss the issue of the exercise of the rights to press
freedom which is based on the right of peoples to freedom of expression.
We are desirous that the African Union Constitution would firmly stand for
the respect and exercise of press freedom; embrace the accountability and
responsibilities of all concerned parties, protect press freedom from
attacks; and strongly protest against undemocratic practices of dictators,
and strongly requires professionals to be governed by code of ethics.
We have concrete grounds for calling on the African Union to focus its
attention on the question of the respect of the right to freedom of
expression. Journalists in Africa work under particularly hostile
circumstances and, because of their important role in building and
maintaining democracy, require recognition and protection.
In several AU member states, journalists are arrested, harassed, and
intimidated solely for their reporting, and many countries resort to harsh,
outdated laws to prosecute journalists for their work. Research conducted
by African and international press institutions shows an alarming pattern of
governments interfering with the free flow of information and zealously
prosecuting journalists for their work-in some cases even drafting
legislation deliberately aimed at suppressing the dissemination of
For instance, a government in an African country has shut down the entire
independent media and has so far detained a dozen journalists. Several
others have fled the country. A government spokesperson acknowledged to CPJ
that independent journalists are currently imprisoned and held incommunicado
but would not guarantee that all of the detained journalists were alive.
Our country, Ethiopia also has a dismal press freedom record, and its
government is planning alarming changes to the country's 10-year-old press
laws that would severely restrict the rights of Ethiopia's already
beleaguered private press corps. Although the Ethiopian authorities claim
that the new law would promote "constructive and responsible journalism," we
believe that the statutes would lead to a crackdown, driving many of them
out of business or putting them behind bars. Currently, one journalists is
imprisoned in Ethiopia, more than 40 journalists have pending court cases.
While these and other few African countries are the most egregious press
freedom violators in the AU, international press organizations, have
documented state harassment of independent reporters and news outlets all
over the continent.
The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA) respectfully
reminds Your Excellency that most AU member states have signed Article 19 of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 19 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter
on Human and People's Rights, all of which recognize an individual's right
to seek, receive, and impart information without fear of reprisal.
As an African association of journalists dedicated to defending press
freedom in Ethiopia EFJA strongly believes that media outlets and
journalists should be able to work freely, and that a public's ability to
gather and receive information should be enshrined and recognized as a
fundamental human right. We also believe that journalists should not face
arrest detention, or harassment for their work.
We call on your Excellency and the African heads of state and government to:
- respect AU and international laws
- release imprisoned journalists in their respective countries.
- change their repressive press laws
- ensure that the media in the AU member can function freely, without
intimidation, harassment, or restrictions.
It is our sincere hope that the AU Summit would come up with successful
results that would be to the ultimate benefit of the peoples of the African
We also hope that press freedom would flourish in Africa and the rest of the
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
3rd February, 2003
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