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African Union discusses protection of media, condemns rights violations

posted 3 Sept 2010, 04:01 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 3 Sept 2010, 04:14 ]

Union leaders and journalists from across Africa gather at the headquarters of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to discuss the safety and protection of journalists working across the continent

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (SEPTEMBER 02, 2010)  REUTERS - The African Union held discussions on the rights and protection of journalists on the continent at a workshop on Thursday (September 02).

The AU was accused in a report released in January this year by an international journalist's group, of doing nothing while African journalism faced crisis with 13 journalists murdered and 32 jailed in 2009.

In it's report the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) named Eritrea, Somalia, Tunisia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Gambia as the most repressive countries for African journalists to work in.

"The African commission on Human and people's rights has recently expressed concerns on the continuous violation of rights to freedom of expression, access of information on the continent including arbitrary arrest and detention, persecution, kidnapping, imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, death threats, physical attacks and suspension of journalists and media protagonists, actual killing of journalists and suspension of journalists and media protagonists, actual killing of journalists and unlawful close of newspapers because they hold critical opinion," said Musa Gassa, representative at the workshop for the United Nations office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.

The report also said that nine journalists were murdered in Somalia in 2009 and 19 journalists held incommunicado in Eritrea.

Journalists in Somalia risk their lives everyday to report on an ongoing brutal conflict. Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991 and is currently embroiled in fighting between the transitional federal government, propped up by African Union forces and hardline Islamist militia.

"Journalists in Somalia have still the same worry about their safety. The constant fear stands still and the challenges they face, of something of the challenge they face is - I can mention killing, intimidations, arrest, torture and on some the cases expulsion as well," said Jim Boumelha, President of IFJ.

Delegates at the workshop said they hope the African Union can push member governments to do more to protect the media and uphold journalists rights.

"It is very much for the first time in Africa that journalists and their organization, human rights organization, advocacy group, lawyers group have come together inside the African Union Commission in order to put on the table the problem that not only of the hostile environment journalists had to face in Africa but also the problem of impunity," said Somali journalist, Mustafa Haji Abdinur at the workshop.

Ethiopia hosts the African Union headquarters and has itself been criticised by journalism advocacy groups for cracking down on the media.

Ethiopian Journalists were jailed in 2005 after a disputed government election victory.