The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and its national partner organisations have called on governments in West Africa to develop practical and coherent national strategies to ensure the protection and security of journalists in line with their commitments under various treaties, covenants and protocols on press freedom and safety of journalists.
The call was made as part of resolutions adopted by the MFWA and its national partner organisations across West Africa at a meeting held on May 1, 2018 at the Alisa Hotel in Accra as a pre-event to the global celebration of the World Press Freedom Day hosted by Ghana on May 2-3, 2018. The meeting was also attended by senior editors and freedom of expression rights activists from Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia and outside of Africa. At the end of the meeting which had the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, David Kaye as Special Guest, the participants unanimously adopted and issued this 11-point resolution:
- The participants called on governments in West Africa to uphold freedom of expression rights as enshrined in their respective constitutions as well as regional and international instruments that guarantee access to information and freedom of expression.
- The meeting also called on governments in the region and the relevant state institutions to prioritise the protection and safety of journalists and the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists.
- The participants called on media owners and managers as well as journalists’ unions to assume full responsibility for the safety and security of their employees and members respectively, by offering them training on safety and security and by ensuring follow-up on violations against their employees or members.
- While commending all both state and non-state actors for a noticeable decline in the most egregious forms of violations such as killing, enforced disappearances, torture and long imprison sentences for criminal defamation, the participants nonetheless deplored the continuing spate of physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and detentions, interrogations and other forms of harassment of journalists and media professionals in the region.
- The participants deplored the high incidents of violations against journalists by state security agencies and called on the authorities to take steps to bring such attacks to an end.
- Expressing deep concern about the situation in Niger and Mauritania, the participants called on the authorities in Mauritania to lift the judicial control imposed on four senior journalists in the country since August 2017. They also urged the government of Niger to release the many journalists and civil society activists arrested and detained in connection with the recent anti-government demonstrations.
- The meeting also urged the authorities in the various countries of the sub-region to collaborate with the relevant stakeholders to develop and adopt well-defined security protocols for the protection of journalists covering events in areas afflicted by insurgency.
- The meeting appealed to governments of countries that are yet to decriminalise libel to do so to end the imprisonment of journalists for press offenses and prevent self-censorship among the media.
- Noting that abuses against journalists tend to increase in election years, the participants urged governments in countries that are heading to the polls in 2018 and beyond, to ensure that journalists are able to cover the electoral processes freely, in view of the fact that attacks on journalists and suppression of freedom of expression rights during elections undermine the credibility of electoral processes and the legitimacy of their outcomes.
- Recognising that many journalists face several risks in their attempt to access vital information through indirect means, the participants called on governments in the region who are yet to pass Right to Information laws to do so to reduce the risks journalists go through to secure important information from unwilling public officials and institutions.
- Participants called on all stakeholders to deepen their collaboration in their common effort to promote press freedom and advocacy to end impunity for crimes against journalists.
Adopted in Accra Ghana, this 1stday of May, 2017