The Al Jazeera Centre for Public Liberties and Human Rights (ACPLHR) in collaboration with the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) held a Side Event on the ‘Challenges of Media Freedom and the Safety of Journalists; Implications of impunity for Perpetrators of Crimes against Journalists and the Rule of Law, in Arusha, Tanzania, on Thursday 19 October, alongside the 77 Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Side Event brought together about 30 participants from various media organisations namely, Article 19, International Press Institute (IPI) Namibia Media Trust (NMT) the Journalists Workers Union of Tanzania (JOWUTA) and the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) as well as a representative from the Pan – African Lawyers Union (PALU) and a representative from the Ministry of Information, Communication and Information Technology.
The Director of the Al Jazeera Centre for Public Liberties and Human Rights, Sami Alhaj in his official opening statement said that journalists are the messengers of truth and public liberties and most importantly defenders of freedom of expression and opinion. He lamented that twelve of their colleagues at the Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN) were targeted and shot intentionally. ‘Death verdicts were issued against two AJMN journalists, and 11 other journalists are experiencing arbitrary detention and imprisonment, separated from their families in an unreasonable and inhumane manner’.
He called on international media organisations concerned with the freedom of opinion and expression and the protection of journalists to push forward the Draft of the Universal Declaration for the Protection of Journalists in order to guarantee the minimum level of protection for journalists and ensure their safety. He also called on the Egyptians authorities to release immediately and unconditionally two Aljazeera journalists, Rabie Al- Sheikh and Bahaa El – din Ibrahim who have been in custody since August 2021 and February 2022 respectively.
The Head of the FAJ Secretariat and Director of the Africa Office of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Pa Louis Thomasi said that freedom of expression and access to information are the cornerstones of democratic societies. He called on African governments to strengthen the established institutions that guarantee freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information in order to ensure that the perpetrators of crimes against journalists are tried and punished. Such institutions, he said, must be protected from undue interference particularly from those who walk along the corridors of power, while ‘the legal status of these bodies should be clearly defined and their institutional autonomy and independence guaranteed and protected by law’. He emphasised that impunity undermines the judicial system, and perpetrators of crimes against journalists anywhere in the continent should not be allowed to go unpunished.
The side event deliberated on various critical themes notably: The Digital Minefield: Harassment and Intimidation of Female Journalists Online, A Strategic threat to discredit the work of female Journalists; Weaponising the Law against Journalists and the Media; A Challenge to Quality Journalism and the safety of Journalists; the UN Plan of Action and the Safety of Journalists and Guaranteeing Freedom of Expression and the Right to Information ; A Government Obligation to Safeguard Democracy and the Rule of Law.