|Adv. Pansy Tlakula (Photo credit: ACHPR)|
State of free expression and access to information in Africa
Commissioner Adv. Pansy Tlakula, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa tells the 53rd Ordinary Session of the African Commission of her activities on April 11.
The ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is hosted by The Gambia from 9-23 April, 2013. Tlakula’s presentation is part of the Activity Reports of Special Mechanisms of the ACHPR to which she is a member.
On Thursday, she noted that on March 28, 2013, she transmitted a letter of Appeal to President Yahya Jammeh addressing allegations on violations of the right to freedom of expression and access to information of three journalists in The Gambia: Abdoulie John, Baboucar Ceeay and Fabakary Ceesay.
Mr John and Mr Ceesay were arrested and detained in the course of carrying out their duties as journalists, and their travel documents also confiscated.
In the letter, she urged The Gambia Government to kindly inform her of the steps taken or steps intended to be taken to investigate the allegations, and punish the perpetrators accordingly. She also appeals to President Jammeh to kindly authorise the return of the travel documents to the concerned journalists to enable them practice their profession without any impediments.
Human rights journalist Fabakary Ceesay reportedly fled the tiny West African country over alleged attempts by The Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency, NIA, to arrest or kidnaps him.
On March 28, 2013, Tlakula wrote to President Paul Kagame commending his Government for the adoption of the Access to Information Law formally gazetted on March 11.
She urge Rwanda to ensure that the Law complies with all international and regional standards access to information and also encouraged the Governent to benchmark its law against the Commission’s recently adopted Model Law on Access to Information in Africa.
On March 15, the Special Rapporteur Tlakula, together with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa transmitted a joint letter of appeal to President Sharif Ahmed.
The letter addressed allegations of rape, detention, conviction and imprisonment of an internally displaced Somali woman; arbitrary arrest, detention, conviction and imprisonment Mr Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a freelance journalist, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalist Mr Daud Abdi Daud.
The special repporteurs urged the Somali Government to inform the Commission of the progress it has made or is making to curb violence against women, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists in the country.
On March 17, the Supreme Court of Somalia overturned the conviction of journalist Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim and ordered his immediate release.
Before the Model Law Project, there were only five African countries with access to information laws, namely, Angola, Ethiopia, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. At the time, Nigeria and Tunisia had actionable access to information regulations.
As at the 52n Ordinary Session, 10 countries had access to information laws, including Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Niger, and Tunisia. “This is a noteworthy shift from the situation that existed before the start of the model law project,” Tlakula said.
The Commission recognises the significance of a comprehensive freedom of expression and access to information law to build a successful and thriving democracy.
“International human rights standards must always prevail over contradictory national laws,” the ACHPR Commissioner said. “It is with this in mind that the Special Rapporteur continues to call upon State Parties to amend their Constitutions and laws to bring them inline with regional and international standards on freedom of expression and access to information.”
She said African States have the obligation to ensure that, free expression and access to information laws, are not only adopted, but implemented, with a conducive environment for citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression and access to information without impediment.
This, she said, would avoid situations where a state has an access to information law, yet citizens, including journalists, human rights defenders and opposition party members are imprisoned for voicing their opinions, most commonly on the count of defamation, or having their rights limited due to unreasonably restrictive laws.
Tlakula calls on State Parties to the ACHPR to also educate citizens about their entitlements and how to enforce their rights to free expression and access to information.
Written by Modou S. Joof