PEN Africa Network (PAN) Statement on World Press Freedom Day 2016

03 May 2016
PEN Africa Network (PAN) Statement on World Press Freedom Day 2016

3 May 2016

PEN SA would like to note the following in addition to the below statement: “One bright spot in the media picture in Southern Africa is the announcement by the ruling African National Congress in South Africa that it plans to introduce legislation in Parliament that will repeal the common law of criminal defamation in the country. This is planned to take place in the next few months.”

The PEN Africa Network (PAN), the umbrella body of PEN International Centres in Africa, joins writers, journalists, editors, poets, publishers and others who have over the years joined hands to fight for freedom of the press, in celebrating this year’s World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2016.

We take this opportunity to remember and honour all writers and journalists who have been murdered for what they write and assure their families that the death of their beloved ones will never be in vain.

As we celebrate the day, many writers and journalists on the African continent are in jail in some of the countries with oppressive and dictatorial governments, not for committing any crimes, but for merely expressing their views on national and global issues.

It must be noted that the international celebration of world press freedom day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a recommendation adopted at the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991 in response to a call by African journalists who in 1991 produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.

On this occasion, we call on the African Union (AU) and governments of AU member-states to ensure that writers and journalists on the continent are given the needed protection in the course of their work in furtherance of promoting democratic rights of the citizenry.

It is sad to note that as we celebrate the day, there is severe suppression of free expression and clamp down on press freedom in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burundi, Rwanda, and other countries. Perhaps the most disgraceful and worrying is the clamp down on press freedom and freedom of expression in the Gambia, which hosts the AU Human Rights Commission.

It is also worrying that in this era of participatory democracy in most parts of the world which calls for the freedom of expression and press freedom, some African countries still have criminal libel and defamation laws in their statutes, with which writers and journalists are persecuted with some thrown into jail mostly in shambolic court trials.

PAN therefore calls on governments and parliaments of all African states with criminal libel and defamation laws in their statues to take immediate steps to repeal them to give real meaning to the democratic dispensation gradually flourishing on the continent.

PAN also calls on the African Union to take the necessary actions to get countries with such obnoxious criminal libel and defamation laws to repeal such laws.

We also call for the immediate release of all writers and journalists imprisoned by African governments as a result of their writings.

Dr Frankie Asare-Donkoh (PhD)
PEN Africa Network (PAN)