President Biya and nine other African leaders have been urged to release journalists detained for doing their jobs.
The plea was made by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and 81 other media, press freedom, and human rights organisations.
Citing its most recent annual survey conducted on December 1, 2019, CPJ says “there were at least 73 journalists in prisons in Africa.”
These included “26 in Egypt, 16 in Eritrea, seven in Cameroon, four each in Rwanda, Burundi, and Morocco, three in Algeria, and one each in Benin, Nigeria, Chad, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Somalia, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.”
“As of March 31, at least 11 of these journalists have been released from jails in Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria, DRC, Algeria, Comoros, South Sudan, and Egypt, according to CPJ research. However, at least six more journalists and media workers have been jailed since December 1, and remain in prison as of March 31, including four in Ethiopia and one each in Cameroon and Algeria” says the CPJ.
Reminding the African leaders of Article 16 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which gives everyone the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health, the groups note that these rights were extended to prisoners and detainees when the African Commission adopted the 1995 Resolution on Prisons in Africa.
Some of the 81 media, press freedom, and human rights organisations are the Cameroon Association of English-speaking Journalists (CAMASEJ), Cameroon Community Media Network (CCMN), Centre for Human Rights & Democracy in Africa (CHRDA), Réporteurs Sans Frontieres (RSF) and the Free Press Initiative (FPI).
With the World Health Organization warning that those deprived of their liberty are at a greater risk of contracting the coronavirus, the groups warn that “for journalists jailed in countries affected by the virus, freedom is now a matter of life and death. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care.”
Many of these journalists they note “have been held in detention without trial for lengthy periods and are suffering from ill health exacerbated by underlying health conditions and overcrowded prisons, where they have contracted malaria, tuberculosis, and other diseases.”
“We urge you to release every jailed journalist in your respective countries and to protect the free press and the free flow of information at this crucial time. Journalism must not carry a death sentence” they add.
Egypt, one of the ten nations addressed by the rights and press groups it should be noted is one of the nations in the world with the most jailed journalists, coming after China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, according to the CPJ.