Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

East/Southern Africa: journalists in Rwanda among those in region suffering repression

In Ethiopia, at least 29 journalists and media workers arrested last year


Journalists in Rwanda face surveillance, harassment, intimidation and prosecution 


‘Journalism should not be criminalised’ - Tigere Chagutah


‘The situation in Rwanda underscores how expelling people seeking asylum in the UK to that country is irresponsible and unsafe’ - Steve Valdez-Symonds


The authorities across East and Southern Africa have escalated attacks against journalists to suppress the reporting of corruption and human rights violations, Amnesty International and the Media Institute of Southern Africa said today.


In Rwanda, journalists operate under the watchful eye of the authorities, often facing surveillance, harassment, intimidation and prosecution for their work. 


Amnesty and other civil society groups have made repeated calls for an independent investigation into the death of high-profile journalist John Williams Ntwali in January this year. Ntwali’s family was informed of his death on 19 January, when police asked his brother to identify his body at the Kacyiru Hospital morgue and said that he had died in a motorbike accident in Kimihurura, Kigali, the previous day. A car driver who reportedly confessed to causing the accident was convicted in a hasty trial without independent observers present. The lack of details given in the verdict - no precise location of the accident, no mention of video or photo evidence, vague details in the medical report - suggest that no effective investigation took place. 


Another journalist, Theoneste Nsengimana, remains in unlawful detention in Rwanda following his arrest in October 2021 for “spreading rumours to cause unrest among the population”.


The Commonwealth Secretariat denied accreditation to journalists Benedict Moran and Anjan Sundaram who wished to cover the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali last June. They had previously published criticism of President Kagame and his government. The secretariat denied their decision was influenced by the host government and indicated that accreditation was denied because the two were not working for “recognised media outlets”.


Steve Valdez-Symonds, Refugee and Migrant Rights Director at Amnesty International UK, said:

“The situation for journalists in Rwanda underscores how expelling people seeking asylum in the UK to that country is irresponsible and unsafe.


“That people face harassment, violence and even death for speaking out against those in power should sound alarm bells for the Home Secretary who, as it stands, has shamefully abandoned the UK’s responsibility to refugees under the Refugee Convention.  


“The Government must abandon their cruel and reckless plans.”

Draconian laws and violence with impunity across the region

In Burundi, journalist Floriane Irangabiye has been detained since August last year. On 2 January, she was convicted on the trumped-up charge of “undermining the integrity of the national territory” and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her prosecution stems from the peaceful exercise of her human rights and for her work as a journalist. On 30 March, the Court of Appeal of Mukaza in Bujumbura held a hearing on her appeal and had 30 days to issue its ruling.


Burundian law enforcement authorities also shut down a press conference in March 2022 organised by civil society groups “Words and Actions for the Awakening of Consciences and the Evolution of Mentalities” and the “Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory”. During the conference, participants had denounced the Ministry of Interior’s measures banning bicycles, tricycles and motorcycles from Bujumbura city centre.


In Ethiopia, media freedom came under significant attack last year, with the authorities arresting at least 29 journalists and media workers across the country. The authorities in the Tigray region charged five journalists with “collaboration with the enemy”. 


Last May, police arrested Temesgen Desalegn, editor of Feteh magazine, and subsequently charged him with disclosing military secrets and spreading false rumours. He was released on bail of ETB 30,000 (around £450) in November. The authorities also expelled Tom Gardner, The Economist journalist based in Addis Ababa, following online harassment by Government supporters about his reporting in the country. 


In the Democratic Republic of Congo, journalists have been threatened, intimidated, detained and sometimes even killed with impunity in the course of doing their work. 


The country currently ranks 149 out of 180 in the latest Press Freedom Index. In its report published in November last year,  the country’s leading journalists’ rights watchdog, Journalistes En Danger, reported 124 cases of attacks against journalists and media organisations in the past year alone. Cases included one journalist who was killed and two who were abducted. Another 37 journalists were arrested, while 18 others were physically assaulted and 17 media outlets or programmes shut down or suspended. A dozen journalists in the DRC are currently detained or have criminal proceedings pending against them in connection with their work.


In Malawi, investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe was arrested last April for publishing a story alleging police corruption relating to the procurement of water cannon, worth millions of pounds. Gondwe was, in this instance, released without charge, but still faces charges related to the illegal transmission of information online under Section 91 of the Electronic Transaction and Cyber Security Act of 2016, which carries a fine of two million Malawian kwacha (about £1,750) or imprisonment of up to five years.


In Mozambique, journalists deemed critical of the Government were subjected to threats, harassment and intimidation. Two unidentified men handed a live bullet to Armando Nenane, a journalist and director of the Crónica Jurídica e Juduciária magazine in Maputo. The men claimed to be following orders from their superiors. The incident occurred after a court had cleared Nenane of document forgery and defamation charges brought by the former defence minister. After being cleared, Nenane filed a defamation action against the former minister and members of the intelligence services.


In South Sudan, nine journalists covering a Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition press conference were briefly arrested by the National Security Service last June 2022 and had their equipment confiscated and audio recordings and photos deleted. The National Security Service was accused of censorship by the United Nations.


In Somalia, freedom of expression has been severely restricted. Journalists have been attacked by security forces and regularly subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrests and prosecution. Nine journalists were injured and two media outlets temporarily suspended by the South West State authorities.


Last October, Somalia’s Ministry of Information issued a directive prohibiting the “dissemination of extremist ideologies from both traditional media broadcasts and social media”. Several media freedom advocates including Abdalle Ahmed Mumin, the Somali Journalists Syndicate’s secretary general, publicly expressed their concerns about its impact on media freedom and the safety of journalists. Abdalle Mumin was subsequently arrested and charged with several offences under the penal code, including “instigation to disobey laws”. This February, he was sentenced by a Banadir Regional Court to a two-month jail-term for “disobeying government orders”. He was detained at the Mogadishu Central Prison for more than a month and released in late March.


In Tanzania, the authorities continued to use repressive media laws to restrict media freedom. Last July, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority temporarily suspended DarMpya, an online media outlet, following what it regarded as “complaints… against DarMpya’s content”. The content related to demonstrations by indigenous Maasai people against Kenya’s role in the Government’s plans to evict them from their land. In July, Kenyan journalist Julius Kuyioni was arrested on his way to Loliondo and charged with illegal entry in Tanzania. His arrest coincided with the authorities’ attempts to stop journalists covering the Maasai community’s protests against their eviction in Liliondo.


In Zimbabwe, journalists have been targeted using a recently-introduced cybercrimes law. Between August and September, three journalists became the first to be arrested under the Cyber and Data Protection Act, introduced in December 2021. 


Last August, Wisdom Mdzungairi - former editor-in-chief of Alpha Media Holdings and the editor of NewsDay newspaper - and Desmond Chingarande - a senior reporter at NewsDay - were summoned to Harare Central Police Station. They were questioned in connection with a story they had published on a business enterprise believed to be run by individuals with connections to the Government. They were charged with transmitting “false data intending to cause harm” and released only after their lawyer assured officers that they would be available for further questioning when required. 


In September, freelance sports journalist Hope Chizuzu was arrested under the Cyber and Data Protection Act after board members of the Dynamos Football Club filed a complaint against him for reporting on the club. Chizuzu’s mobile phone and iPad were confiscated and kept by the police for “further investigations”. He was released the same day after police issued him with a warning and told him that he would be summoned to appear in court.


Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s East and Southern Africa Director, said:

“There has been a worrying trend of attacks, harassment, intimidation and the criminalisation of journalism across East and Southern Africa.

“The authorities must create a conducive environment which allows the press to work without repercussion, intimidation and imprisonment, for doing their job. Journalism should not be criminalised.” 

Tabani Moyo, Regional Director for the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said:

“Journalists hold up a mirror to society. Targeting them simply for doing their work sends a wrong message that states are not prepared to uphold their human rights obligations and to be held accountable.”


View latest press releases