In January alone, Africa saw the killing of Martinez Zogo, John Williams Ntwali, an investigative journalist in Rwanda and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer
• February has started with chilling news of another killing in Cameroon of Rev Fr Jean Jacque Ola Bebe, an Orthdox priest and journalist, was found dead on February 2
The year 2023 has started on a bad note for media and civic actors.
From west to east and in southern Africa, governments continue to target, arrest and kill independent voices.
In January alone, my beloved Africa saw the killing of Arsene Salomon Mbami Zogo popularly known as Martinez Zogo, a prominent journalist and the manager of Amplitude FM in Cameroon.
There is also the mysterious death of John Williams Ntwali, an investigative journalist and a government critique in Rwanda and the brutal murder of Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer in Eswatini.
February, too, has started with chilling news of another killing in Cameroon.
Rev Fr Jean Jacque Ola Bebe, an Orthdox priest and journalist, was found dead on February 2 near his house.
One thing that is common about all the above individuals is their outspoken nature against authorities either on corruption, constitutional reforms and or general human rights abuse.
In addition to the above cases of murder, there are several unresolved cases of killings, arrests, arbitral detentions and assaults on journalists and civic actors all across Africa, including Kenya.
This leaves the question, is freedom of expression under threat in Africa? Is there a systematic approach by authorities to shrink media and civic space further in 2023?
Freedom of expression is provided for under national, regional and international human rights instruments.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of human Rights provides for the right to freedom of opinion and expression, which includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.
The African Commission on Human’s and People Rights adopted the declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa with the aim of promoting the free flow of information and ideas and greater respect for the rights to freedom of expression and access to information.
Additionally, most of the African countries’ constitutions explicitly provides for the said right and the government’s obligation to create an enabling environment for its enjoyment.
It is, therefore, absurd that despite these protection mechanisms, authorities are still hell-bent on violating of the right to Freedom of Expression through all means, including by causing harm and death.
It is through freedom of expression and media that most of the continent’s bad governance, human rights violations, corruption and ill practices have been brought to the attention of citizens. The right to freedom of expression continues to be the tool for citizen's quest of other rights eg roads, housing, shelter, education etc.
This right has lived to its intention of facilitating the enjoyment of the other rights. Journalists and human rights defenders have been in the forefront of exercising this right in different ways, including organising for peaceful protests, investigative journalism and unearthing corruption deals by government officials.
It, therefore, goes without saying that the right to freedom of expression must be promoted and protected all times for masses to be guaranteed of the other rights.
Independent voices, including regional economic blocs, the African Commission on Human and People’s Right and international human rights bodies must step up and call out the perpetrators of the continued killings and assault of human rights defenders and journalists.
The sense of solidarity among media and civic players in calling out authorities that are determined to close media and civic space must be supported.
The solidarity action by human rights defenders across the region in calling out the Eswatini government after the brutal murder of comrade Thulani was commendable.
Silence, when an authority violates rights in a country, is only likely to encourage another government to do the same. Indeed injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
So, even as we get into the next months of the year and as we gear up to the celebration of 25 years of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, everyone — individually and collectively — must stand up for the right of freedom of expression.
I hope that the perpetrators of Thulani, Fr Jean, John and Martnez death will be brought to book, we will know the truth about the killing of Arshad Sharif in Kenya, the journalists who are being held arbitrarily without charges in South Sudan will be released and that we will see an expanded civic and media space in Africa
Muthuri Kathure is the senior program officer (Civic Space) at Article 19 Eastern Africa.