The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said 48 Zimbabwean
journalists have been forced out of the country by a government
crackdown on the media and deteriorating economic conditions, writes
Torby Muturikwa.

The New York-based organisation raised concern on the deteriorating and hostile environments in Somalia, Eritrea and Zimbabwe, where it noted extensive violations of media freedom.

“Zimbabwe has the largest group of exiled journalists in the world. With seven years of government repression of the independent press, a battery of restrictive media legislation, threats, and worsening economic conditions has forced at least 48 journalists to flee Zimbabwe since 2001,” the CPJ said in a protest letter to African Union (AU) Commission chairperson Alpha Konare in which it also asked the AU head to uphold press freedom.

The CPJ named Eritrea as Africa’s leading jailer of journalists and the third-leading jailer of journalists worldwide. “We found that as many as 14 journalists were still held in secret locations there without charge at the end of last year. Somalia remains the deadliest place for the press in Africa and second only to Iraq worldwide with seven journalists killed last year in the line of duty with total impunity,” the CPJ said.

Many Zimbabwean journalists fled the country after the government shut down several newspapers in the country and banned foreign correspondents following the enactment of tough press laws, which required scribes to register before practising.

Journalists forced out of Zimbabwe have launched online publications or are working for foreign radio stations that report on the Zimbabwe situation. A few are doing menial jobs in the United Kingdom and the neighbouring South Africa.

One journalist, Edward Chikomba, a former cameraman for the state television, Zimbabwe Television (ZTV), was killed last year after he was abducted by secret police following the release of a video which showed security agents bludgeoning a leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai.

In a letter addressed to Konare on the eve of the AU summit, which kicked off on 31 Janauary in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the CPJ urged the AU to actively defend and uphold press freedom across the continent.

“CPJ calls on your office to strengthen AU institutions dedicated to supporting press freedom, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and the African Peer Review Mechanism, and remind states of their obligation to uphold press freedom as part of their membership in the union,” read the CPJ letter in part.

It said its current research documenting worldwide press freedom conditions reveals a worrying pattern of deteriorating press freedom in sub-Saharan Africa, including in AU member states heralded for holding recent democratic elections. In addition, 10 journalists were killed on the continent in the course of their work this year, the highest number since 1999.
The committee said its 2007 study revealed that press freedom had deteriorated the most over the last five years in Ethiopia, the Gambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, adding that all the three countries were signatories to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, have constitutional guarantees for press freedom, and have democratically elected leaders with Western support.