May 3, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - As the globe marks the World Press Freedom Day on Friday the international press rights group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), called on the African Union (AU) to promote press freedom and to engage in protecting African journalists.
In an open letter it sent to Chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Zuma, CPJ urged the AU chief to play a leading role in the efforts of releasing all journalists imprisoned in Africa.
"We urge you to use your office to persuade member states to comply with the letter and spirit of conventions they have signed that uphold press freedom," said CPJ Executive Director, Joel Simon.
The press advocacy group further appealed for justice to all African journalists killed in the course of duty.
According to CPJ research no justice was served to at least 80 journalists murdered in the continent since 1992.
At least 41 African journalists are said to spend World Press Freedom Day imprisoned in direct reprisal for their journalistic duty.
Nigeria where five journalists have been killed with impunity since 2009 and the East African nation of Somalia were labeled among worst nations globally in combating deadly, anti-press violence.
CPJ was alarmed that Ethiopia and the Gambia, which host offices of the AU, are among the nations holding journalists in jail.
"It is particularly disturbing that Ethiopia and the Gambia, which host offices of the African Union, are among the nations holding journalists in jail” Simon said.
“These imprisonments have silenced important voices, often in contravention of regional and international rulings".
With seven journalists behind bars, Ethiopia is one of Africa’s foremost jailer of journalists behind neighboring Eritrea which imprisons at least 30 journalists.
Meanwhile an Ethiopian court on Thursday rejected an appeal over the case of the blogger Eskinder Nega who is held on terrorism related charges.
The court upheld an 18-year prison sentence.
In reaction to the court ruling CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said: "This ruling trivializes the serious crime of terrorism, upholds a politically motivated travesty of justice, and lessens Ethiopia’s international standing".
"As a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Ethiopia should comply with its obligations under international law and its own constitution and release Eskinder unconditionally. The persecution of Eskinder and other journalists is the hallmark of a regime fearful of the opinions of its citizens."
The New York-based press freedom group mentioned Ethiopian journalists, Reeyot Alemu, the 2013 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize winner, who is serving a five-year term and Eskinder Nega, 2012 laureate of PEN American Centre, on “fabricated terrorism charges” among several journalists who should be released immediately.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among other international institutions, have in the past censured Ethiopia for the imprisonment of Reeyot and other journalists facing lengthy prison terms under the country’s overly broad anti-terrorism law.
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle