August 3, 2000 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), citing an “alarming pattern of government interference” with the free flow of information in many Southern African countries, is calling on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to “consider the press freedom records of member states in determining whether a particular country should remain a member in good standing.”
In a letter to SADC chairman Joachim Alberto Chissano, the president of Mozambique, Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ, urged him “to publicly reiterate the organization’s commitment to honoring and respecting freedom of expression and the press.”
The letter was sent in advance of the August 6-7 SADC Summit of Heads of States meeting in Windhoek, Namibia, to express CPJ’s “grave concern about the deplorable state of press freedom in several SADC member states and the use of harsh, outdated laws to prosecute journalists for their work.”
Among the countries cited for their repressive press freedom records are:
The Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the SADC’s newest members, which “currently holds the worst record of press freedom violations anywhere in Africa.”
Zambia, an SADC founding member, which, despite repeated promises by the government to reform its media laws, still has several repressive acts and statutes in place.
Zimbabwe, also an SADC founding member, where several harsh press laws remain on the books and others are in the works, despite repeated protests by CPJ and other press freedom groups.
Angola, where Article 5 of the war-plagued country’s 1991 Press Code makes journalists subject to state security laws, while several other clauses prescribe lengthy prison terms for reporters accused of defaming government officials, particularly the head of state. On May 3, because of the Angolan government’s continued disregard for press freedom, CPJ named President dos Santos to its annual list of the world’s ten worst enemies of the press.
The Kingdom of Swaziland, where more than 80 journalists and media workers were forced out of work in early February by the abrupt closure of the Swazi Observer Group of newspapers in retaliation for the refusal by some editorial staff to reveal sources for two articles on Swazi police activities.
While the above-mentioned countries are the most egregious press-freedom violators in the SADC region, CPJ has also documented state harassment of independent reporters and news outlets in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Tanzania, and Namibia. Even in South Africa, which is widely considered to be a model for press freedom in the region, CPJ is concerned by the South African Human Rights Commission’s decision to call editors to testify on alleged racism in local media (the subpoenas were later withdrawn). “Along with many South African journalists, we fear that this inquiry was designed to intimidate the press and to discourage critical reporting about the ruling party,” wrote Cooper.
As an organization of journalists promoting press freedom around the world, CPJ urges SADC to consider the press-freedom records of member states in determining whether a particular country should remain a member in good standing. We also call on the SADC Summit of Heads of State or Government to publicly reiterate the organization’s commitment to freedom of expression and the press.