Banjul, Gambia (PANA) - The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFK) Friday expressed concern over attacks on civic rights, particularly the freedom of association in several African states.
The statement was issued here at the 61st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights at Kairaba hotel, 17km outside Banjul.
“We wish to convey to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights our continuing concern and alarm at the continued shrinking of civic spaces in many African countries.
“Many countries in the continent are finding ways to limit the rights to freedom of assembly, association, expression and access to information, guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” the statement said.
It pointed out that a growing trend was the use of cyber-security laws to unduly limit freedom of expression and access to information, as guaranteed under the African Charter.
The statement added that “In Nigeria, several journalists and civil society activists have been arrested under the Cyber Crimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act, 2015, for statements that were well within their rights to freedom of expression”.
“Recently, journalist and political activist Omoyele Sowore was charged with making statements in media interviews that were insulting to the President of Nigeria. Journalist Jones Abiri has been in detention for periods of over two years, and charged under the Cyber Crimes (Prohibition and Prevention) Act because of a news report he published in the ‘Weekly Source’ newspaper,” the statement said.
Similar cyber-crimes laws exist, and have been used to silence journalists and activists in Egypt, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.
According to the statement, several states have also used internet shut-downs to silence citizens’ voices and quell dissent, pointing that during the last presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the internet was cut while voters were waiting for election results.
The statement noted that the government justified the internet cuts by saying the shutdown was necessary to curb “rumor mongering” among citizens, stressing that this was the second time the country’s government had decided to block the internet.
It recalled that in January 2018, the state cut the internet in anticipation of planned protests where citizens were requesting President Kabila to vacate his position.
“The government of Chad has shut down access to all social media since March 2018. This is the second time the government will resort to this tactic. In 2016, the government shut down access to the internet for eight months.
On January 15, 2019, the government of Zimbabwe shut down social media, including WhatsApp, and eventually completely shut-down internet access in response to growing protests against the rise in fuel prices.
“Internet shutdowns have also been employed by governments in Togo, Cameroon, Benin, Gabon and Sudan,” the statement noted.
IHRDA & RFK also stated that public order laws were being used to curtail the rights of persons to freedom of assembly in states such as The Gambia and Sierra Leone, among others, adding that “these laws contain provisions that necessitate the grant of permission by state agents before protests or demonstrations can take place”.
“Demonstrations that take place without this permission are deemed illegal, and can be dispersed, in most cases, with the use of excessive force. This is in addition to criminal sanctions for those taking part in the protests. In Uganda, the Public Order Management Act 2013 requires prior notification for protests but the government now interprets this as a requirement for prior authorization,” the statement pointed out.
According to IHRDA & RFK, just this year, in The Gambia, the provisions of the Public Order Act of 1965, have been used to deny many activists of the right to protest, and a number of peaceful protests have been forcefully dispersed and persons taking part in these protests arrested.
In Sierra Leone, activists have been arrested and detained for taking part in peaceful protests, the two bodies said, revealing that activist Edmond Abu was arrested and later released last year while participating in a peaceful protest about an increase in fuel prices.
The statement stressed that these incidents were only illustrative of a general trend in many African countries.
“IHRDA & RFK urge the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to respond to cases of shrinking civic space in Africa, wherever and whenever they happen and call on African States to respect and protect the rights to expression, access to information, assembly and association for everyone under their jurisdictions.
“IHRDA & RFK also call on African States to bring their Cyber-crime and Public Order laws in compliance with the provisions of articles 9 and 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”.
It again urged: “Continue to popularize the Commission’s Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and the Commission’s Guidelines on Access to Information and Elections in Africa,” the statement said.
-0- PANA MSS/RA 25Oct2019