- The Accra-based Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) has singled out Niger and The Gambia as the worst bulldozers of human rights and press freedom in West Africa. The media rights watchdog has dispatched a complaint to the 42nd Ordinary Session of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights in Congo Brazzaville, drawing the commissioners’ attention to deplorable erosion of rights in the two countries.
A complaint against Niger is connected to the government’s mistreatment of journalists and media institutions bent on reporting the armed conflict in the country’s troubled northern region. The media have since been facing several attacks such as the suspension of newspapers and radio stations, intimidations, threats and harassments.
“Journalists covering this conflict are regarded as accomplices of the rebellion and enemies of the nation,” MFWA said, adding that two journalists [Moussa Kaka, correspondent of Radio France International and Ibrahim Manzo Diallo, editor of the bi-monthly newspaper ‘Air Info’] are still being detained for “complicity in a plot against the authority of the state and conspiracy in connection with recorded telephone conservations they had with the rebel leader.
Besides, Niger authorities embargoed foreign journalists from accessing the conflict area.
Media foundation describe all of these acts as violation of Article 9 of the African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights that “every individual shall have the right to receive information. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law“.
Niger has been seriously criticised for trapping journalists through recording their phone conversations, a contravention of Article 12 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to privacy.
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”, the Article reads.
Nigerien government banned independent radios from relaying live broadcasts on the rebellion related issues, but it simultaneously allows the public media to openly initiate and broadcast hate debates against an identified ethnic group.
Turning to The Gambia, MFWA said permanent persecution against the media and journalists resulted to the absence of independent press in that country, the offshoot was that several journalists feared their safety and decided to flee the country. The most recent is the case of Yaya Dampha, journalist at the Foroyaa newspaper, who is missing, a week after he had assisted an Amnesty International fact-finding mission in The Gambia.
“In addition to the arbitrary arrests of journalists, torture is commonly used by the police and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), in violation of article 5 of the Charter which prohibits physical or moral torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment,” the foundation complained, citing the arrest and torture of the former Chief Editor of The Independent Newspaper, Musa Saidykhan, as a classical example.
The Gambia has also been challenged on the continued and illegal detention of a pro-government journalist, Chief Ebrima, who was arrested by the agents of the NIA. Ironically, Gambian authorities continue to deny detaining him.
The rights body described the act as a violation of Article 6 of the Charter, which guarantees every individual’s right to liberty and security as well as outlaws arbitrary detentions.
MFWA has lodged a complaint on behalf of the missing journalist at the Community Court of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja. But the Gambian government had deliberately snubbed the hearings without explanation. The case now awaits judgment on 20 November.
The continental human rights commissioners have been urged to pay particular attention to the mentioned cases and “compel Niger and The Gambia to respect their obligations in light of the Charter”.
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