Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia are Africa’s leading jailers of journalists, according to a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists which paints a worrying picture of the press freedom environment on the continent.
Fifty eight journalists are behind bars for doing their job across Africa, with the authoritarian Egyptian administration of President Fattah el-Sisi leading the pack as the worst jailer of journalists.
Where there were no journalists in jail in Egypt for their work in 2012, the 2015 CPJ prison census finds the North African country is now one of the worst places on the continent to work in the media with 23 reporters, cameramen and bloggers behind bars. The vast majority were locked up for reporting on protests by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Horn of Africa countries Eritrea and Ethiopia are the next worst offenders holding 27 journalists between them, 17 in Eritrea and 10 in Ethiopia.
Although Ethiopia recently freed a few journalists including several bloggers set free before President Obama’s visit to Addis Ababa, the lobby reports that the bloggers still face travel restrictions.
CPJ’s Africa Programmes Coordinator Sue Valentine said: “No journalist should be jailed for their work. As African states seek to sustain the development agenda, an independent, critical free press is more important than ever. Journalists and bloggers have a vital role to play in exposing corruption, promoting good governance, and amplifying the voices of a country’s most vulnerable citizens.”
Other countries holding journalists in their prisons in Africa are Gambia (2), Somalia (2) and one each in Cameroon, Mauritania, DRC and Morocco.
Around the world, China is listed as the worst jailer of journalists with 49 being held behind bars while Turkey is also named as having a deteriorating environment for media freedom. The country doubled the number of journalists in jail to 14 during the year.
Reasons advanced for locking up reporters doing their job on the continent vary. Ethiopia has gained notoriety for jailing regime critics such as prominent online columnist Eskinder Nega, who is serving an 18-year term and Temesghen Desalegn, an opinion writer who has been denied health care in prison. The authorities consistently link journalists critical of the regime to terrorism.
In Eritrea, one of the continent’s most closed countries, no reasons are ever advanced for locking up reporters the regime does not like.
The case of Ghebrehiwet Keleta, is typical. Security agents arrested Ghebrehiwet, a reporter for the now-defunct private weekly Tsigenay, while he was on his way to work in July 2000 and he has not been heard from since.