Petition to African Union Leaders: Set Journalists Free and Abandon Press Controls

His Excellency

President Thabo Mbeki

President of Republic of South Africa,

And Chair of African Union

Dear Mr President

Call for African leaders to release all incarcerated journalists and repeal anti media and anti freedom of expression legislation

We are writing to express our concern over the continued incarceration and harassment of journalists in the majority of African Countries for no other reason than carrying out their legitimate duties. We are also very concerned about the persistent violation of freedom of expression in Africa, which denies Africans the opportunity to participate in democratic debate towards solving the many problems facing the continent.

The multitude of challenges facing Africa includes improving education, healthcare, HIV/AIDs, agriculture, building centres for scientific and technological, provision of adequate housing, conflict resolution - peace and stability and so forth. These challenges cannot be met without the active participation of the citizens of African countries.

Active participation of citizens in shaping policy and decision making of their countries is however impossible if their own governments continue to deny them the rights necessary to ensure such participation. These include the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and political participation, as well as media freedom to facilitate a free exchange of information, ideas and opinion.

However these rights continue to be violated by numerous government despite the fact that virtually all African countries have signed up to or ratified the constitutive Act of the African union, the African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other similar documents.

May 25th 2003 marked 40 years of the celebration of Africa liberation day and the formation of the Organisation of African Unity. Similarly May 26th 2003 marked the second anniversary of the formal establishment of the African Union

It saddens us greatly therefore to note that more media houses have been shut down, and more journalists have been imprisoned, killed and driven into exile in the last forty years of independence of African countries than in the same period during the anti-colonial struggles that proceeded independence. With the exception of very few African governments, most have retained pre independence anti-media and anti-freedom of expression legislation that the colonial governments used to legitimise their incarceration of journalists in that era which remains one of the most shameful for the human race. Some have even managed 'improve' on such repressive legislation.

It was with great hope and expectation that all Africans and friends of Africa welcomed the launch of the African Union and looked forward to a new future based on its constitutive Acts. However two years into this bold experiment, no significant progress has been made. Even worse, two of the first five countries to sign up i.e. Eritrea and Zimbabwe having been turned into living hells for the media by the governments of those countries.

We therefore lend our voice to the numerous calls that have been made by regional and international organisations to the concerned African leaders to without delay release all incarcerated journalists, re-open all closed media houses, repeal anti-media legislation and recognise the importance of a free press, freedom of expression and other associated rights as vital ingredients necessary to build free, democratic and prosperous societies.

Only when this is done will the NEPAD initiative and any future similar initiatives have any real meaning for the peoples of Africa.

Yours Sincerely

Sign [List of signatories]

CC: Governments of the member countries of the African Union C/o African Union secretariat


Signatories to state: Name; Organisation, and position [if applicable, stating if they are signing in personal capacity or on behalf of their organisation]; Country; and Website [if applicable].

**Also E-mail address,[but this will nor be made public]

And send to with title African Union Campaign. Please copy to

The Campaign was launched in Pambazuka the mass circulating Africa focussed electronic weekly newsletter on rights and development issues. It was initiated by CREDO and FAHAMU as the first step in a wider strategy to create mass awareness and concentrate international public attention on the campaign to institutionalise press freedom and freedom of expression in Africa.

The Pambazuka editorial in support of the petition can be read by clicking here

See also

IFJ statement