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Death, shutdowns, crackdown and a glimmer of hope as Angola reviews penal code clauses in favour of LGBTQI rights

Journalist Ahmed Hussein Suale is shot by unidentified men, Angola makes history by discarding clauses that criminalise same sex relations and discriminate based on sexual orientation, women journalists from the continent interact with powerful female media leaders, authorities shut down the internet in five countries, Tanzanian President Magufuli heads towards one party state, and Sudan continues its brutal crackdown on dissenting voices.

Ugandan LGBT refugees pose in a protected section of Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya, 14 October 2018
Ugandan LGBT refugees pose in a protected section of Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya, 14 October 2018

Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Much of the African continent entered the new year in turmoil, with an odd glimpse of hopefulness. The murder of Ghanaian journalist Ahmed Hussein Suale was condemned by the media fraternity throughout the world, as was the bombing of a media outlet in Nigeria. Internet shutdowns in five different countries do not bode well for broader access to online platforms, and the brutal crackdown of protests in Sudan is doing little to quell the unrest.

Journalist Ahmed Hussein Suale assassinated

Condemnation for the murder of Ghanaian journalist Ahmed Hussein Suale reverberated throughout the globe. Condolences poured in for this unassuming investigative reporter from people who worked with him and were shocked by his murder. Suale was shot close to his family's home in the early hours of 16 January.

Suale was the lead investigator at Tiger Eye Private Investigations, established by well-known Ghanaian investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas. The investigative journalism team worked undercover using hidden cameras to expose wrongdoing, including bribe-taking by court judges, fake abortion doctors, and sex trafficking rings.

Their most damaging revelation to date was that of football corruption in Ghana which led to the dissolution of Ghana's football association and a lifetime ban on Kwesi Nyantakyi, the president of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and executive council member of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA).

MFWA, along with several other regional and international media advocacy organisations, are urging the Ghanaian government to swiftly conclude the murder investigation into Hussein Suale's death and bring those responsible to account. The organisation, which has been fighting against impunity for those who commit crimes against journalists, highlighted the need to address the three critical challenges to ensure the safety of journalists in Ghana.

Angola makes history in favour of LGBTQI rights

While reviewing their archaic penal code, Angola made history by removing the "vices against nature" provision, which was used to criminalise same sex relations. In establishing a new code, legislators also ruled to include a clause that will make it illegal to discriminate against persons based on their sexual orientation.

This action by Angola's parliament is all the more significant on a continent where the LGBTQI community is specifically targeted and often persecuted through legislation that carries heavy penalties. Organisations from the continent and the international community celebrated this progressive move, along with Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), which issued a statement that also congratulated the organisation Iris Angola for its immense efforts. SMUG included a congratulatory message for the government: "legislative recognition for sexual minorities in Angola is a vast leap in the right direction for the country, and is to be a major inspiration for other countries on the African continent."

As well as establishing equal rights through legal reform, Angola has supported more tolerant social attitudes. As reported by HRW, in 2018 the government "gave legal status to Iris Angola, which was established in 2013 - a move that can now be seen as a forerunner for this latest step toward equality." The group called the decision an "historic moment" for allowing the organization to defend the rights of sexual minorities in Angola.

While countries like Tanzania and Uganda are reinforcing their homophobic stance through legislation and other retaliatory actions that violate the rights of LGBTQI people, other countries are moving progressively forward. During a speech against violence on women and children in November last year, Botswana's new president, Mokgweetsi Masisi, also emphasized the rights of LGBTQI people, making it clear that they have the same rights as every other citizen.

As the fight for equal rights continues, the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) of Kenya has undertaken a campaign headlined Repeal 162 which is challenging sections of the Kenyan Penal Code that make consensual same sex acts between adults punishable. Phrases like "carnal knowledge against the order of nature" and "gross indecency" in many of the archaic, colonial era laws are used to criminalise consensual same-sex sexual conduct. This is precisely why the NGLHRC is hoping that, irrespective of the outcome, this legal challenge "revitalizes efforts to have many African constitutions challenged but also puts the courts of law under question on their ultimate duty to protect the rights of all human beings."

Bootcamp for media women across Africa

Still in Kenya, women journalists from the African continent who are part of the International Women's Media Foundation and WAN-IFRA Women in News initiative met for the Women Media Leaders' boot camp in Naivasha, Kenya as part of their leadership training.

It was a week of power talks, technical and digital training, inspiration and forging new paths in a sector slowly allowing women to enter the decision-making arena. The bootcamp focused on training around podcasting, mobile journalism, data journalism, and photography, with additional sessions on issues like safety, sexual harassment, trauma sensitive reporting, and media management.

Internet shutdowns

Governments' new weapon of choice against dissenting voices, protests, and crisis is the blocking of social media platforms or the shutting down of the internet.

This month alone the internet was blocked in five countries in Africa. Chad has had prolonged internet disruption since March 2018, while Zimbabwe's internet shut down on January 16 following protests after the announcement of major fuel price hikes. Internet access was only reinstated after a High Court ruling following a legal challenge by the Media Institute of Southern Africa together with the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

Major cities across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had their internet cut off as the government claimed it wanted to cut down on the spread of misinformation in the wake of a disputed presidential election. Meanwhile, Gabon shut off service during an attempted coup, and Sudan has blocked social media since the protests began last year December.

As mentioned in a recent Forbes article: "Online platforms have become an important site for political and social engagement. … This is because they offer great organising potential, enhance political accountability and disrupt old media practices that tend to exclude less powerful voices from important social and political discussions."

It's no wonder that online access has become the battleground on which governments can exert their power - from authorising interruptions to shutdowns to imposing punitive costs and restrictions that obstruct access.

The imposition of a social media tax imposed by Ugandan authorities in July 2018 has had the predicted impact of reducing the number of people accessing the internet.

According to figures from the Ugandan Communication Commission, Juliet Nankufa of CIPESA, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa explains that, as feared, the number of internet users has been reduced by five million in three months.

In her analysis, Nankufa points out that the "numbers also show that revenue from the tax is far from the windfall which government had predicted the tax would add to the national treasury.:

The tax was initially introduced on the basis that it was a way to raise revenue, while President Museveni mentioned that it prevented the spread of gossip. Critics say it was aimed at stifling criticism of Museveni.

Whatever the rationale, either subscribers have stopped accessing online platforms, or perhaps have opted to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to continue accessing social media while avoiding the paying of the daily OTT tax of 200 Ugandan shillings (USD 0.05).

"The figures from the regulator appear to confirm the fears expressed by many upon the introduction of the tax, that it would harm the sector by undermining internet access and affordability, while also threatening access to information and freedom of expression," adds Nankufa.

Sudanese protests gain momentum

Protests that ignited in December in Sudan continued through January, with authorities intensifying their crackdown. Far from quelling dissent, the result seems to have been even greater resolution among the protestors, chanting freedom, peace, justice as teargas was being fired on them.

Sudanese appear to have put aside their differences and are protesting from wherever they are positioned. In a video smuggled out of Sudan, journalist Yousra Elbagir focuses on the women in the frontlines of protests, whether on the streets or in detention.

The tragic killing of Dr. Babikar Salama - who came out from his hiding place where he was treating injured civilians, with his hands in the air - is symbolic of the entry of middle class professionals into the fray. As reported by the New York Times, "The death of Dr. Babiker, an idealistic young man from an affluent family, has emerged as a signal moment in a powerful tide of protest that has roiled Sudan over the past five weeks, posing the greatest threat yet to the country's ruler of 30 years, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The public display by Sudanese authorities of the release of people they say are 'protest prisoners' is being seen as an all-too-familiar publicity stunt. Numerous high-profile opposition party members, rights activists, members of the Sudan Professionals Association, the chairperson of the independent doctors' syndicate, as well as journalists continue being held - "most in unknown locations, without access to lawyer or family visits," according to HRW.

Treacherous trajectory for Tanzania

Tanzania was back in the headlines as its government introduced amendments governing the activities of political parties and President Magufuli explained why he monitors his ministers' phone calls.

The parliament passed amendments granting a government-appointed registrar general sweeping powers over all political parties in the country, effectively steering the country towards a de facto one party state. Under the amended law, the registrar general also has the power to de-register parties and sentence anyone engaging in un-authorised civic education - such as voter registration exercises - to one year in prison.

During the swearing-in ceremony of newly appointed cabinet members, permanent secretaries and other senior officials at State House earlier this month, President Magufuli admitted that he monitored the phone conversations of his government appointees. He went on to explain that his decision to reshuffle Cabinet was based on the knowledge he had gleaned from these monitored calls.

Uganda's proposed censorship law will crush artistic expression

If a newly drafted censorship law is passed by the Ugandan cabinet in March as expected, musicians will be expected to submit their lyrics, music and videos for approval, and filmmakers will have to present their scripts. Musicians, producers, promoters, filmmakers and all other artists will be required to register with the government and obtain a licence, and artists will have to seek government permission to perform outside Uganda. A breach of any of these regulations will result in artistic licences being revoked.

"More than 100 musicians, writers and artists, together with many British and Ugandan members of parliament, have signed a petition calling on Uganda to drop plans for regulations that include vetting songs, videos and film scripts prior to their release," reported Index on Censorship.

Many are coining this proposed contentious draft the Bobi Wine Law, in reference to Member of Parliament Robert Kanyanguli, better known by his stage name, who has already been victimised by the government.

Music in Africa noted that: "Bobi Wine is enjoying unwavering support from Uganda's disillusioned under 30s, who according to official data make up 75% of the East African nation's population. This support makes the Kyadondo East MP, and his People Power, Our Power movement, a major threat to Uganda's political hegemony led by Museveni since he came into power in 1986."

In brief

In Mozambique, MISA Zimbabwe, together with the regional and international community, is calling for the immediate release of Mozambican community radio journalist Amade Abubacar who was in military detention from 5 January 2019 and only transferred into police custody on 16 January 2019. 

In Cameroon, a reporter with the privately-owned news website Cameroon Web, Paul Chouta was beaten and stabbed by 3 men outside his home. CPJ is asking Cameroonian authorities to ensure that those who assaulted him are swiftly brought to justice.

Three journalists were shot while covering a political party rally in Ikeja, Lagos. The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is calling for thorough investigations into the shooting as well as justice for the victims.

Also in Nigeria, the International Press Centre (IPC) based in Lagos condemned the raid and subsequent closure of the head office of the Daily Trust in Abuja and the organisation's Maiduguri office by military personnel on 6 January. The military ordered staff out of the premises, laptops and computers were seized, and operations halted. No reason was given for the action. 

Armed men attacked Monrovian radio station Roots FM and destroyed broadcast equipment in what CEMESP has described as "a calculated ploy to silence critical voices in Liberia".

Staff from Guinea Bissau's national broadcaster Televisão da Guiné-Bissau began a partial strike to protest political meddling in news content, and are demanding an end to censorship and bias in the coverage of news.

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) condemned the summoning of the editor in chief of Al Watan Arabi newspaper by South Sudan's media authority, which then issued a directive to the paper to stop writing articles on the protests in neighbouring Sudan. 

Opposition Member of Parliament Alain Lobognon in the Ivory Coast has been sentenced to one year in prison for his Twitter post, in what is being regarded as a political power ploy. Lobognon was also fined CFA Francs 300,000 (about US$ 550) after being pronounced guilty of "disseminating false publication and incitement to revolt on social networks".

If you enjoyed this, check out all the January regional roundups!

Asia & Pacific
Europe & Central Asia
Middle East & North Africa

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