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Africa/Global: Media Repression 2.0

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 25, 2017 (170425)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"In the days when news was printed on paper, censorship was a crude practice involving government officials with black pens, the seizure of printing presses and raids on newsrooms. The complexity and centralization of broadcasting also made radio and television vulnerable to censorship even when the governments didn't exercise direct control of the airwaves. ... New information technologies-- the global, interconnected internet; ubiquitous social media platforms; smart phones with cameras--were supposed to make censorship obsolete. Instead, they have just made it more complicated." - Joel Simon, Committee to Protect Journalists, April 25, 2017

The 2017 Attacks on the Press report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, just released today and entitled "The New Face of Censorship," speaks of issues faced both by old and new media in countries around the world. Joel Simon's opening article refers to "Repression 2.0," and like Repression 1.0 includes centuries-old technologies such as murder and imprisonment of journalists as well as those mentioned in the paragraph above. But it also includes shutting down social media (or the entire internet), harassment by automated bots or targeted attacks on web sites, or economic pressures through withdrawal of state advertising in targeted newspapers.

The CPJ report is available on-line at https://cpj.org/2017/04/attacks-on-the-press.php

Most of the chapters apply worldwide, and are available at the link above.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains links to several chapters specifically on Africa in the CPJ report, and several articles focused specifically on the situation in Cameroon and in Zambia. Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out earlier today, and available at http://www.africafocus.org/docs17/zam1704.php, has several reports on the current political crisis in Zambia, involving repression both of media and of opposition leaders.

On Cameroon see also

http://tinyurl.com/kpkmzpt for Le Monde April 21 article (in French): "Après trois mois de coupure, Internet est de retour dans la partie anglophone du Cameroun"
and Amnesty International news flash on April 24 on the sentencing by a military court of radio journalist Ahmed Abba to ten years in prison (http://tinyurl.com/lwujatz).

On the use of advertising as a weapon, see also the April 18 article by George Ogola, with particular reference to the case of Kenya * http://tinyurl.com/mfbpa84).

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

The New Face of Censorship

Committee to Protect Journalists

April 25, 2017

"Independence means isolation for journalists in Sisi's Egypt" https://cpj.org/2017/04/a-loyal-press.php

"The Kenyan government withdraws advertising when newspapers step out of line"
https://cpj.org/2017/04/fiscal-blackmail.php

"Even as the country collapses, South Sudan's government will brook no criticism"
https://cpj.org/2017/04/from-fledgling-to-failed.php

Also see https://cpj.org/killed/ and https://cpj.org/2015/04/10-most-censored-countries.php

The 20 deadliest countries for journalists, since 1992, include Somalia at number 4, with 62 killed; Algeria, at number 5, with 60 killed; Rwanda, at number 17, with 17 killed; and Sierra Leone, at number 19, with 16 killed.

Eritrea ranks first and Ethiopia fourth, among the 10 most censored countries, with North Korea as second and Saudi Arabia as third.


Cameroonians Are Getting Their Internet Back After a Three Month Government Block

by Damola Durosomo

OkayAfrica, 04.20.17

http://www.okayafrica.com - direct URL: http://tinyurl.com/lke9us5

After three months offline, Anglophone regions in Cameroon will finally get their internet back, reports BBC Afrique.

The country’s president, Paul Biya ordered that the internet be restored earlier today.

Southwestern and Northwestern areas of the country were shut-off from the internet in January following demonstrations led by the country’s English-speaking community who have long felt discriminated against by the French-speaking majority. Authorities claimed that internet-users in the two regions were using social media to spread false information about the government.

The issue gained media attention in February when the #BringBackOurInternet campaign began on Twitter. Just weeks after the block began, seventeen year old, Nij Collins traveled outside of his hometown, where the internet was blocked, to the country’s capital where he became a Africa's first Champion Google Coder.

[See http://tinyurl.com/zk37gz5 for more details on Collins.]


Cameroonian military court convicts journalist Ahmed Abba of terrorism charges

Committee to Protect Journalists

https://cpj.org/africa/cameroon/

New York, April 20, 2017--A military court in Cameroon today convicted Ahmed Abba, a journalist for Radio France Internationale's Hausa service, on charges of "non-denunciation of terrorism" and "laundering of the proceeds of terrorist acts," according to his lawyer and RFI. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Cameroonian authorities not to contest the journalist's appeal and to release him without delay.

Abba's lawyer, Clément Nakong, told CPJ that Abba, who has been jailed since July 2015 in relation to his reporting on the extremist group Boko Haram, could face the death penalty on the first charge and a maximum of five years in prison on the second charge at a sentencing hearing scheduled for April 24. Nakong said Abba would appeal the conviction after the sentencing hearing. RFI reported that the military tribunal acquitted the journalist of the charge of "apologizing for acts of terrorism."

"The military court's conviction of Cameroonian radio journalist Ahmed Abba on terrorism charges that could carry the death penalty is an outrage," CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. "Covering terrorism as a reporter must not be equated with committing acts of terror. Each day Abba spends behind bars is a travesty of justice."


Life in No-Internet Cameroon -

This is Africa (Hilversum), 1 March 2017

http://allafrica.com/stories/201703010683.html

By Monique Kwachou

The English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been facing a government-ordered Internet shutdown since 17 January. This shutdown was imposed in the wake of ongoing strikes, violence and protests against the continued marginalisation of English-speakers. Monique Kwachou describes life in No-Internet Cameroon

It used to be difficult to explain that there were two Cameroons. At conferences, international round tables where Africans and Afroinquisitive Westerners would swap stories, as well as questions and assumptions about each other's countries, you would often have to debunk the myth that you were fluent in French by virtue of being Cameroonian and being called Monique. It would take too long to explain the invisible divide of that Picot Line. This problem, which has since either been ignored or normalised, would be too broad to broach. So you limit your comments on your country to corruption, the president's everlasting reign, conveniently patriarchal cultural 'values' - issues all Africans understand and face, unfortunately, irrespective of their country of origin.

But recently your government has made it easier to explain that there are two Cameroons. They somehow found that dividing line that no one would acknowledge existed and now it is clear: There is Internet Cameroon and No-Internet Cameroon, that is, La Republic du Cameroun, which gained independence from French rule on 1 January 1960, and former British Southern Cameroons, which gained independence by merging with 'long lost brothers' on 1 October 1961. Now when your colleagues from other countries ask you about Cameroon, it is easier to explain the problem that has long been ignored and subdued. Easier, not easy. The issues of who and what you identify as remains as complex as ever. Now your colleagues ask you, how are you coping? What is it like living under an Internet ban? You attempt to help them envisage it. Imagine this, you say:

So, what is it like?

It is 7pm. Just two hours earlier news had broken of the government banning the associations at the forefront of the longest and largest strikes in recent national history. Now you are reading reports online, stating that some of the leaders of the strike (and one of the now banned associations) have been arrested. Upon reading this you feel alarmed. You attempt calling those you know to check on their well-being. Your call doesn't go through. You try reaching out to mutual friends and family online to discuss your fears and ascertain their safety, but your messages keep loading. You can't see the tick next to your WhatsApp messages, the one that would confirm that they had been delivered. You assume it is the network; that the lines are probably crammed as the news of arrests sends everyone scurrying to call their loved ones. Things will surely escalate. And they do. You see cars held up on the road just outside your window - bikers have taken to blocking the roads with burning tires and abandoned cars to show their displeasure. You hear shots being fired into the air, the police descending with tear gas. People try to park their cars on the pavements to hide in the safety of neighboring buildings like the one you live in. Others use the opportunity to loot and steal - you see them running with gas bottles stolen from the local gas station. You have dismantled your phone and reassembled it twice, removing and replacing your SIM card, restarting it, feeling confident that the network will return so you can check in with your loved ones or follow updates on the situation.

An hour later you receive a call from a friend who is stuck a mile from your place due to the road blocks. Could he come spend the night? he asks. The roads are blocked and the police are arresting whoever they can. When he arrives at your place, he tells you of the fear on fellow passengers' faces when they saw tires burning on the road and bikers with bottles - 'kerosene bombs' - only for the gendarmes to follow with batons and tear gas. He tells of running for his life and feeling ashamed for not stopping to help a female passenger who fell into the gutter as they both tried to escape. He says all this while reassembling his phone. You both still think it is a network problem. Hours later, you can't sleep. You receive an SMS from a friend in Douala: Has your Internet been cut off too? she asks. It dawns on you that this may actually be it; the government may actually have cut off Internet access. You two laugh. Crazy people! you remark. How long can this last? Douala, the economic capital, needs Internet access or else businesses will crash. Heck, everyone needs Internet access. You two discuss the government's lack of foresight until you fall asleep. The next morning you learn that the other regions had their Internet restored overnight. Just the two Anglophone regions where protests had occurred, just the people who had complained about marginalisation, had been cut off. As if to further confirm their claims...

The next morning you learn that the other regions had their Internet restored overnight. Just the two Anglophone regions where protests had occurred, just the people who had complained about marginalisation, had been cut off. As if to further confirm their claims.

That first day you are livid. You feel like you have been assaulted and no one is doing anything, or saying anything about it. People are still numb from the events of the day before. Government officials are busy attempting to reclaim control, assuming that the strike will die after the arrests and ban of associations. You know better. You are now both afraid and spitting mad. That first day is a Wednesday and, because of work, you persevere until the weekend, when you cross the regional border to Douala to access the Internet.

Picot Line (Picot Provisional Partition Line)

As you cross the imaginary line, your phone vibrates with the force of over a thousand pending messages. Picture an S5 having an epilepsy attack. You are in a cramped danfo bus and you don't know which of the messages to reply to first. Should you reply to any of the personal messages? Obviously people aren't that close to you if they can't reach you without Internet-cheapened means of communication. Where do you begin with the professional e-mails? You have over 70 e-mails from the online youth development course you were taking. You have to submit entries for possible publication and writing residencies before deadlines, you have to send in a report on your mentoring of one of the YALI West Africa fellows. You have to do all this and more before returning home tomorrow evening. But since you're still in the bus and can't crack open your laptop, you head to Facebook.

You have over 200 notifications. Everyone who is anyone has an opinion on what is happening in the country. The strike has new leaders who are completely detached from the reality on the ground, your timeline is filled with hate speech, depressing reports of more arrests, violence in other regions, which you had not known of, and fake news of things that people claim happened in your area. Your timeline drains and further angers you. Yet nothing angers you as much as the silence of the majority of Cameroonians in other regions. Nothing angers you as much as those who try to justify the Internet ban and those who use the Internet ban to further their own motives. You post a few rants and get to work as soon as you arrive at your friend's place. You try to do a bit of work, but your spirit is broken. You lack zeal.

Nothing angers you as much as the silence of the majority of Cameroonians in other regions. Nothing angers you as much as those who try to justify the Internet ban and those who use the Internet ban to further their own motives.

By the time you head back to No-Internet Cameroon on Sunday evening, you have finished more than 3.5GB of data, you have ranted as much as you could, you have criticised government and rebel leaders alike, you have put up a blog warning the 'Silent Majority' and you have downloaded as many PDFs as possible, knowing you will no longer have access to Google when you cross the imaginary line.

That is the first week.

For weeks to come you will make Douala a regular weekend spot. You have always detested the hot, congested city, but you now have no choice but to visit it. Your government has made you a regular commuter, an economic refugee in your own country. After the second weekend in Internet Cameroon, you return to No-Internet Cameroon with your laptop on 'hibernate' just so you can preserve the three Google Chrome windows and countless tabs you opened to use for work when back in the comfort of your own space. Unfortunately, the bumpy bus ride jarred your laptop battery and it had to be rebooted when you arrived. That is how you lost the information held in the countless tabs you had opened while in Internet Cameroon. That is when you began to consider leaving your country, the home you've worked so hard for. What sort of unrequited love relationship is this? you wonder.

Back in No-Internet Cameroon, banks that have been closed for lack of Internet have somehow been given limited access so as to distribute salaries. Smaller money transfer agencies still without access call branches in Internet Cameroon to verify the money transfer details you fill out on your form before handing you the money. Young entrepreneurs with tech start-ups in Buea, also known as Silicon Mountain, commute daily, an added expenditure for budding companies. Other fixed businesses and institutions are frozen in place: NGOs that depend on regular communication with sponsors, associations (like yours) that do a lot of advertising of opportunities online, and the plethora of cyber cafes. Somehow higher education, with all the research it entails, is expected to function with normalcy despite no Internet access. How would lecturers work on lesson plans? How would students do assignments? SMS is the new WhatsApp, so the fake news and messages by new strike 'leaders' are still being spread. Between the Internet ban and at least two 'ghost town' days a week, the people of these two regions have adapted to a state of repression. It is now obvious that the ability of Cameroonians to adapt to situations with resilience is both a blessing and a curse.

#BringBackOurInternet

By the third weekend visit to Internet Cameroon, there is more advocacy for the restoration of Internet access under the #BringBackOurInternet hashtag. It occurs to you that like Nigeria's #BringBackOurGirls the likelihood of anything being brought back is slim. In Africa, with leaders like ours, we must find ways to take back what we value. They don't just 'bring'. Nonetheless, the fact that more people are now aware of the injustice, that the global community is now speaking up as a result of people like Kathleen Ndongmo, Rebecca Enonchong, Kah Walla and others raising awareness online is considerably consoling.

For weeks to come you will make Douala a regular weekend spot. You have always detested the hot congested city, but you now have no choice but to visit it. Your government has made you a regular commuter, an economic refugee in your own country.

A month later, trips to Internet Cameroon tire you out; they are draining. Every time you cross the border and log in, you hear of another arbitrary arrest. You hear more fake news, either from the government news stations or from the rebel leaders. You are aware that you are fortunate to be able to travel to work weekly. There are others who cannot afford it. However, having to leave your home and cross regional boundaries just to check your itinerary or reply to conference organisers is frustrating. Sometimes the thought of facing Douala traffic makes you drop off at the border of the city, and you perch in a little palm-wine shack, weary of your surroundings and able to respond only to urgent e-mails. One cannot do any real work under such conditions.

This is how it feels to be an 'Internet refugee'. You are tired, you feel like you are under house arrest, coming from a region convulsed with the Internet ban and frequent 'ghost town' days only to see posts from people in the comfort of other regions, selfishly egging on violent protests, all the while going to work, going to school, using the Internet... things people of No-Internet Cameroon no longer enjoy with regularity nor peace.

Imagine that.


For Zambia's press, election year brings assaults and shut down orders

By Angela Quintal/CPJ Africa Program Coordinator

Committee to Protect Journalists blog, November 8, 2016

http://tinyurl.com/kxp7a9o

Zambia's press has come under sustained assault in this election year, with station licenses suspended, journalists harassed or arrested for critical coverage, and one of the country's largest privately owned papers, The Post, being provisionally liquidated in a move that its editors say is political motivated.

The Zambian chapter of the non-governmental organization, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zambia), noted in a report that the past few months have been turbulent for press freedom in Zambia. Journalists with whom CPJ spoke echoed those findings. They said they believe President Edgar Lungu and his allies have been emboldened by his re-election, and that the situation for the privately owned media has continued to deteriorate.

CPJ documented several instances of harassment and attacks on the press in the lead up to and after the elections, including the Zambia Revenue Authority closing the offices and printing press of The Post in June over unpaid taxes, and the broadcasting regulator, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, ordering the privately owned stations Komboni Radio, Muvi TV, and Radio Itezhi Tezhi to be suspended in August for posing a risk to "peace and national security." The radio and television stations are now back on air, and the amount of tax allegedly owed by The Post is disputed by the owners. Its editors told CPJ this week that they believe it was a politically motivated move to silence the critical outlet.

Other cases include:

In April, Joan Chirwa and Mukosa Funga of The Post were charged with defamation over an article about the president, published the previous year, the rights group, PEN reported.

On July 8, police arrested David Kashiki, a photographer for The Post, when he tried to take pictures of suspected police brutality at the offices of the main opposition party, United Party for National Development (UPND), according to Misa-Zambia.

On August 3, Elijah Mumba, a reporter for the daily, New Vison, was beaten while on assignment, allegedly by a member of the UPND, according to Misa-Zambia When the media watchdog issued a statement about the attack, which alleged police inaction, its chairperson Hellen Mwale was summoned for questioning.

Lesa Kasoma, the owner of Komboni Radio, told CPJ she was assaulted by police outside her station on October 5, after the suspension order had ended. She is currently on trial for allegedly assaulting a police officer.

Police on October 13 questioned Prime TV managing director Gerald Shawa and station manager Makokwa Kozi over a letter they broadcast from police, that demanded the station hand over video footage recorded at an opposition leader's press briefing, according to reports. Police spokesperson Esther Katongo told local media the letter was classified. Shawa and Kozi were cautioned for leaking the letter to the public.

On November 5, Njenje Chizu, a journalist with Muvi TV, was beaten by police in Kasama when more than 100 officers raided the station to prevent UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema and his deputy Geoffrey Mwamba from appearing, according to reports. In an account of the assault, Chizu said he was punched by police, who broke his camera and charged him with conduct likely to cause the breach of peace and fined him.

The office of the president did not immediately respond to CPJ's requests for comment. Lungu's deputy told Parliament on October 13 that the president does not order police to beat up critics.

"Things have moved from bad to worse," said Chirwa, managing editor of The Post. The paper has been operating from a secret location since the Zambian Revenue Authority closed its offices and printing press. The revenue authority says the move is not political, but Chirwa said she believes otherwise.

"The government of Edgar Lungu is the first in Zambia's history to have closed a newspaper, two radio stations, and a television station in a space of four months," said Chirwa. "This is alarming and obviously tells what kind of government we have--intolerant to criticism and ready to break the law with impunity."

The Post was provisionally liquidated last week after two former employees sued it for allegedly owing money to them, a claim the newspaper denies. Fred M'membe, its editor-in-chief and a CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee, said he believes this is part of the government's attempts -- through its surrogates -- to shut down the newspaper.

Chirwa told CPJ that the newspaper would challenge the attempt to liquidate it. "The Zambian government's desire to annihilate critical, independent press is extremely alarming and a cause for serious concern among journalists and advocates of a free press worldwide," she said.

Andrew Sakala, president of the independent Press Association of Zambia, described the liquidation as one of the darkest moments in Zambia's journalism history. "From its inception about 25 years ago, The Post has played a critical role in the democratic process. It has been a platform for alternative voices and provided valuable information on various issues to the citizenry," he said.

Although it was difficult to directly link the anti-media freedom actions by state agencies to the government, public pronouncements by government officials suggest there was tacit approval for their actions, Sakala said. "In some cases these agencies move into action immediately after complaints by government and ruling party officials. The suspensions of Muvi TV and Komboni radio is a case in point. The [Independent Broadcasting Authority] took action immediately after government officials complained," he added.

Sakala said, "The situation is compounded by the fact that we have a lot of anti-media and anti-democracy laws which were mainly left on the statutes by the former colonial masters. These were laws that were primarily created to stifle the freedom of the people especially during the independence struggle."

For Kasoma, the owner of Komboni Radio, the suspension order was only the start of the problems she faces. Kasoma said police assaulted and arrested her when she arrived at Komboni's office to meet her station manager for a discussion on how best to resume operations.

"What happened to me was inhuman and should not happen to anyone at all. I have suffered physical, mental and psychological torture and my family has not been spared in some of these," said Kasoma. She appeared in court on October 31 for allegedly resisting arrest and assaulting a policeman.

In her interview with CPJ and other media, Kasoma said she bit an officer in self-defense while being manhandled by him and five of his colleagues, some of whom she alleged were intoxicated. She said she was stripped half-naked, in the presence of members of the community and staff, and was held at a police station until her lawyers freed her on bail. When the assault on Kasoma was raised during parliamentary question time. Vice-President Inonge Wina defended the police, repeating that Kasoma had attacked the officers. Days later Wina apologized to Kasoma in Parliament, saying she had not been apprised of all the facts at the time.

Kasoma's next court hearing is due to take place November 21.

Local civil society organizations have written to President Lungu about the state of press freedom in Zambia. At a press briefing, Sara Longwe, chair of the Non-Governmental Organizations Coordinating Council, an umbrella body of groups, said there appeared to be a "systematic move towards a one party system" in which only voices seen to praise the ruling party and the state were given space and freedom.

Lungu maintains that he is a "staunch defender" of media freedom. He told a radio station that if he did not believe in media freedom, he would have closed some outlets when he was voted into office. He also defended the action against Muvi TV at a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, saying the broadcasting authority had no choice but to suspend its license because the station was inciting hate speech.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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