EAST AFRICAN COMMUNITY LAWYERS TO FIGHT FREEDOM OF PRESS IN EAST AFRICA
East African Community lawyers plan to meet to discuss draconian media laws being enacted in the region.
The East Africa Law Society president, Mr James Aggrey Mwamu, said Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Somalia have adopted a pattern of media suppression.
“Governments in the region are jointly suppressing democratic freedoms by using unconstitutional laws to gag journalists and the media,” Mr Mwamu (right) said.
He noted that media freedom would be among the core issues to be discussed in depth at the annual conference on November 15 and 16 at The Whitesands Hotel in Mombasa.
The conference theme is “Raising the Bar: The Changing Environment for the Legal Profession in East Africa”. It will bring together lawyers in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.
“We are dismayed that the Kenyan Parliament last week passed into law Acts which suppress freedom of information under Article 35 of the Constitution,” Mr Mwamu said.
The EALS president regretted that intolerance to media freedom has also being intensified in Tanzania with the recent suspension of two newspapers for alleged violation of stringent media laws.
“The Ministry of Information stopped the publication of Mwananchi newspaper and Mtanzania, alleging violation of secrecy and sedition laws,” Mr Mwamu said.
He also recalled how the Daily Monitor newspaper was raided and shut down for 10 days in May after allegedly publishing a politically sensitive story in Uganda.
“The Daily Monitor was allowed to reopen on the promise that it would not publish material that might disturb law and order or generate tension,” Mr Mwamu said.
The EALS president also regretted that journalists were also reportedly being harassed and intimidated in Uganda when covering political stories like arrests of Mr Kizza Besigye.
“There are also concerns on violent deaths of journalists, such as that of Thomas Pere in June,” Mr Mwamu said.
He added that Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza is about to sign into law a media Bill recently passed by the Parliament in April.
“The Burundi Senate passed a draft media law despite opposition from journalists and the international community,” Mr Mwamu said.
According to a rights lobby, Human Rights Watch, the new law (in Burundi) would interfere with media independence by forcing journalists to disclose sources and imposing minimum requirements for journalists’ education and experience.
Under the proposed Bill, journalists will be required to have at least two years of professional experience in addition to a university degree.
In addition, the media will be banned from covering “sensitive” issues including public security, national defence and the economy.
Violations still carry penalties that HRW said most Burundian media outlets would not afford.