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Retaliating against media reports of civilian deaths at the hands of the Malian Armed Forces, authorities there have ordered French public broadcasters RFI and its sister TV station France 24 off the air.

News reports of military abuses were without merit, the ruling junta charged. They dismissed a report by RFI about summary executions and looting by Malian soldiers and the Russian security personnel now accompanying them on their operations against terrorists in Mali.

The abuses had been documented in a report by the NGO Human Rights Watch and by the head of the United Nations rights commission Michelle Bachelet and rights group Human Rights Watch.

Limits on press freedom are ever more widespread on the continent. In Uganda, two journalists are being held since a raid on their office on March 10 on charges of “cyber-stalking“ President Yoweri Museveni and for “offensive communication.” Seven colleagues were also arrested in the same raid but have since been released. 

The detained journalists are Norman Tumuhimbise, executive director of Alternative Digitalk TV, an online TV channel critical of the government; and Farida Bikobere, a presenter. A court has ordered them detained provisionally in Luzira high security prison in Kampala until March 21, when a bail application is to be considered.

The two were accused of publicizing new books by Tumuhimbise, scheduled for release March 30, that take a critical look at Museveni’s policies since he became president in 1986.

“Write a book critical of the president, and you’re treated like a suspected terrorist,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Africa desk. “The prolonged detention of these two journalists, who are still in prison, is as serious as it is unjustified. We call for the charges to be dropped and for their immediate release.” 

As the world prepares to celebrate World Press Freedom Day on May 3, where does the continent stand?

“In almost half of the continent, the press freedom situation remains worrying; information is often blocked; either partially or completely. There are restrictions to prevent journalists from doing their job properly and in the worst cases journalists are intimidated, assaulted, sometimes arbitrarily arrested, or even killed,” Froger said.

More than thirty reporters have lost their lives in Africa in the last five years. In the DRC, Nigeria and Somalia more than a hundred cases of abuse against journalists are reported every year.

Among the best-performing countries in Africa were Namibia and Ghana. The Seychelles and Burundi are also progressing in the right direction, said RSF.

The NY-based Committee to Protect Journalists names Angola, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Sierra Leone for repressing press freedom. An abduction in South Sudan and an attack on journalist Franklin Doloquee during a live broadcast in Liberia have also been cited.

And in the recent Freedom in the World 2022 Report, authorities in Eswatini and Zimbabwe are “strangling the media,” according to The Media Institute of Southern Africa.

“One of the global objectives that Africa could set for itself,” said RSF Froger, “is to ensure that it is no longer permitted to imprison journalists simply for alleged press offenses.” 

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