Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) has called on Southern African governments and other stakeholders to show commitment to addressing the barriers to freedom of expression in commemoration of the Africa Freedom Day on 25 May, 2015.
Executive Director Lilian Kiefer says any restriction on the enjoyment of freedom of expression is a restriction on other freedoms as well.
‘There is also a growing pattern of restrictions to the enjoyment of civil liberties such as freedom of expression, freedom of the press, movement and assembly. This has been done through threats, harassment, silencing of dissenting voices and gagging of the media. This has seen a number of journalists, politicians and human rights defenders having unpleasant brushes with the law,’ Kiefer said.
PSAf believes that the commemoration of the Africa Freedom Day therefore cannot be complete without critical reflections and commitments from leaders to address the stumbling blocks to citizens’ enjoyment of these freedoms.
She said without freedom of expression, it is not possible for any individual or group of individuals to enjoy other freedoms like freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of movement, and others.
‘Although a number of countries in the region have freedom of expression and access to information in their constitutions and national statutes, not much has been done to ensure that the citizens enjoy these freedoms.
‘Freedom of expression gives the citizens the much needed power and courage to engage their duty bearers, and point out any wrongs or development gaps without fear of repercussions,’ she explained.
The Panos boss said ‘where freedom of expression, freedom of the press or access to information are not guaranteed, media practitioners tend to resort to self-censorship on certain issues, in fear of reprisals for highlighting certain opinions or voices. This is costly to the citizens who rely on the media for information on various issues’.
Kiefer further said PSAf is concerned that despite the significant steps taken to liberate the region’s people from the many injustices bedevilling them, there are still high levels of inequalities, discrimination, social exclusion and human rights abuses.
She said ordinary citizens are still struggling to attain full liberation from socio-legal and economic injustices.
She said her regional organization views the commemoration of Africa Freedom Day as a time for governments to revisit their commitments and address barriers that hinder citizens’ enjoyment of freedom of expression and other liberties they are entitled to. She said Africa Freedom Day is a time to remember the sacrifices that were made by many poor and marginalized citizens who sacrificed their families to fight for freedom of expression and other liberties.