The Decriminalisation of Expression Campaign aims to rid Africa of criminal defamation, insult, false news and sedition laws. The campaign is spearheaded by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, along with organisations spanning the five regions of Africa: East, West, South, Central and North.
An overview of all the organisations involved in the campaign, which includes local, regional and global organisations, can be found here [insert hyperlink].
Insult, false news, sedition and certain types of defamation laws, criminalise various types of expression, preventing the media to report fairly on matters of public concern and the community on debating such matters. These laws are routinely used to arrest and jail journalists, bloggers and media owners, leading to self-censorship and a stifling of public debate on critical issues. Shutting down debate hurts democracies, both stable and emerging, and slows economic and social progress.
There is no doubt that journalists have an obligation to report fairly, ethically and accurately on the events of the day and that on occasion they do not conform to these standards. However there are more appropriate remedies such as compensation, apology and retraction, that would be available to any person (including persons such as presidents or senior government officials) injured by such reporting. Consequently there is no need for these criminal defamation, insult, false news and sedition laws which were almost always enacted during the colonial era and deliberately designed to shut down legitimate criticism of colonial governance.
Calls for the repeal of these laws gained international momentum in 2007 with the Declaration of Table Mountain which called for the abolition of insult laws and criminal defamation and which was developed by the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers and the World Editors Forum.
Importantly the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights passed Resolution 169 in 2010 which called on State Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to repeal criminal defamation laws or insult laws which impede freedom of speech.
Further in 2013, the Pan-African Parliament passed the Midrand Declaration on Press Freedom in Africa and launched a campaign on “Press Freedom for Development and Governance: Need for Reform” in all five regions in Africa.
We call on governments to repeal these laws through their parliaments and we call on individuals and organisations to assist in taking up this campaign in their regions and in their countries. We aim to encourage governments to engage in law reform on these issues through public education and advocacy campaigns. Through targeted litigation, we will also challenge the constitutionality of these limits on the rights of the press to report on the news of the day and on the rights of ordinary people to have access to news and information about what is happening in their countries.
Sign our assistance pledge today [insert hyperlink] and get involved to rid our continent of these undemocratic colonial-era laws, which undermine our democracies and our human rights. Let’s work together to see Africa have economic and social progress, good governance and great democracies!