The African Union (AU) has begun a drive to get the African continent of its ‘infamous’, ‘archaic’ criminal defamation and sedition media laws, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported this week.
CPJ said on its website that AU special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information, Commissioner Pansy Tlakula, has launched an auspicious initiative in East Africa to counter criminal defamation and sedition laws.
The New York-based media watchdog also said that authorities and business interests in the East and Horn region have since the 60s used these colonial-era criminal laws on sedition, libel, and insult to silence their critics in the press.
However, these laws are not only used in these eras of Africa, all of Africa still uses the same laws to counter-attack criticism of government and its cronies by the independent media.
Governments in countries such as DRC, Angola, Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon, to name only a few, continue to use these medieval laws to detain, torture or even kill scores of outspoken journalists.
“Criminal defamation laws are nearly always used to punish legitimate criticism of powerful people, rather than protect the right to a reputation,” CPJ quoted Tlakula as saying.
This month, the South Africa-born commissioner met for the first time with government and civil society representatives from across the East and Horn region to discuss ways to engage governments to repeal these laws.
The South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) high-ranking official, who is an advocate, also plans to hold similar discussions across the continent, CPJ reported.
Countries particularly targeted include Zimbabwe, Gambia and Zambia, where goverments and corrupt business people allied to the governments often misuse criminal defamation laws.
Photo: Pansy Tlakula. Credit: Presidency of South Africa