The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) recorded nine violations in six countries during its monitoring of the freedom of expression environment in February 2018. Five incidents of physical assaults were recorded in four countries – Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Ghana.
Mali, Togo and Nigeria recorded one incident each of arrests and detentions, while Benin recorded one incident of suspension of a media house. The violations affected ten journalists, 11 citizens and one media organisation.
The first violation occurred on February 9 when a Member of Parliament, Munah Pelham-Youngblood of Montserrado County District in Liberia, assaulted Henry Karmo, a journalist with the FrontPage Africa newspaper. The MP violently pushed and shoved Karmo after accusing him of “publishing a hostile story about her.” The attack took place at the premises of Liberia’s Parliament.
In two separate incidents in Cote d’Ivoire, journalists were physically assaulted by a rampaging mob. The first incident involved Chris Paterne Assémian, the local correspondent of Benin-based SIKKA TV. On February 17 Assémian went to cover an incident in which the youth of the town of Boléquin had lynched a gendarme for killing a taxi-rider in a fight. Someone from among the crowd incited the youth against Assémian by claiming that he was from the state broadcaster, Radiodifussion et Television Ivoirienne (RTI) which they said “never tells the truth.” Consequently, some of youngsters assaulted the journalist, kicking and slapping him repeatedly while one person inflicted a cut on his right arm with a cutlass.
A similar fate befell another journalist, Diomandé Karamoko of the investigative weekly, Allô Police on February 26. The reporter went to Williamsville, near Abidjan to follow up on an incident of abduction and killing of a child from the town, allegedly for ritual purposes. Karamoko’s claim to be a journalist was challenged by one young man who insisted he knew him as a tailor and friend of a local jeweler who is widely suspected to be the killer. The journalist unwittingly increased the suspicion of the superstitious folks when he asked the bereaved parents for a picture of the dead child. The woman he was interviewing raised an alarm and a group of young men stormed the house to physically attack the journalist. Karamoko lost his phone and his shoes while his clothes were reduced to shreds in the attack.
On February 18, another case of physical attack was recorded in Kogi State in Nigeria, where Atabor Julius, a journalist with the Independent newspaper, was accosted at a restaurant and assaulted by four thugs suspected to be a vigilante group of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The assailants also threatened to kill Atabor if he did not desist from writing critical reports about their political party.
In Ghana, Christopher Kevin Asima, a presenter of A1 Radio, fell victim to another unwarranted physical attack while he was covering a fire outbreak in Bolgatanga, capital of the Upper East Region of Ghana on February 23. A police officer felt offended when the journalist suggested that he should speak the indigenous dialect to facilitate communication with the crowd of onlookers which he (the officer) was struggling to control at the fire scene. The police officer hit the journalist on the chest. Two other policemen at the scene joined to further brutalise the journalist, while their commander ordered for the journalist to be handcuffed.
Meanwhile the Regional Police Commander, DCOP Vincent Redeemer Dedjoe, on February 26, apologised to the journalist over the incident. ASP Van Koffie Eric, the leader of the three policemen involved in the assault, also apologised to the victim.
In Nigeria, Tony Ezimakor, a journalist with the Daily Independent newspaper, was detained for seven days for alleging in an article that the government paid ransom to secure the release of some Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram. He was detained by the Department of State Services (DSS) on February 28, 2018, together with his colleague, Jide Oyekunle. The latter was however released same day while Ezimakor got his freedom seven days later.
Another incident of arrest and detention occurred in Mali on February 21. Four individuals (later identified as state security agents) stormed the premises of the news website Maliactu.net and forcibly carried away three of their journalists, Salif Diarrah, Aliou Hasseye and Issa Coulibaly. The three were interrogated by the police CID and a High Court prosecutor over accusations that they attempted to blackmail a public official with a sex video. After two days in detention, Diarrah was remanded while his two colleagues were freed. Diarrah eventually regained his freedom after six days in detention, following a public outcry denouncing the arbitrary manner of his arrest and detention.
The last incident of arrest and detentions occurred in Togo, where Foly Satchivi, president of the Togolese league of students’ rights (Ligue Togolaise des Droits des Etudiant-LTDE) and 10 other students were arrested and detained on February 6. The 11 were arrested outside of campus while they were preparing to hold a rally at the University of Lomé to demand better teaching and learning conditions. They were released two days later without charge.
In Benin, the media regulator, Haute autorité de l’audiovisuel et la communication (HAAC), suspended the private daily, L’Audace Info, indefinitely. The suspension, which also affected L’Audace Info’s online edition, took effect on February 8, same day that the newspaper published an article titled “Talon Sucks Beninois to the Marrow.” The article, which highlighted huge disparities in wages of civil servants and those of high-level public officials, was judged by the HAAC to be insulting of Benin’s president, Patrice Talon.
Other Significant developments
The month saw the release of 45 out of 92 persons who had been detained for taking part in political demonstrations in Togo. The pardon was part of agreements reached at a dialogue between government officials and leaders of the coalition of 14 opposition parties through the mediation of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of neighbouring Ghana.
In another milestone development, the ECOWAS Court of Justice ruled on February 14 that media laws on sedition, false news and criminal defamation in The Gambia are unconstitutional as they violate the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by that country’s constitution.