2020 was a hazardous year for African journalists marked by killings, harassment, arrests, Covid

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The year 2020 has proven to be a dangerous year for African journalists, some of whom were killed on assignment while others were killed in custody. Others were harassed while working, arrested while working, or stricken by Covid-19. The month of December was especially dangerous.

The international newswire Reuters said that one of its cameramen, Kumerra Gemechu, 38, was arrested in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last Thursday, but has not been charged.

“Kumerra is part of a Reuters team that reports from Ethiopia in a fair, independent and unbiased way. Kumerra’s work demonstrates his professionalism and impartiality, and we are aware of no basis for his detention,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in the statement.

Kumerra has been working for the newswire for a decade. His family told Reuters that he was present at a brief court hearing on Friday, where there was no lawyer was present. The family added that a judge ordered Kumerra’s detention for a further 14 days to give police time to investigate.

This is the second time a Reuters journalist this month has been harassed. The newswire said Tiksa Negeri, a Reuters photographer, had been beaten by two Ethiopian federal police officers on 16 December.

Additionally, managing editor of Ethiopian newswire Awramba Times, Dawit Kebede, is one of five Ethiopian journalists who are still imprisoned as of press time, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, the state-run broadcast regulator, accused Reuters and other international media outlets last month on its Facebook page of “false” and “unbalanced” coverage of the ongoing fighting in the northern region of Tigray.

The Federal government has been fighting in Tigray since late November, but the region had all communications cut off for a month, putting pressure on journalists covering the fighting and the ongoing aid crisis there.

Targeting journalists in Uganda

Earlier this month, RFI reported on Ugandan and international journalists who have been targeted while covering the opposition in Uganda during campaigning before the presidential elections in January 2021.

Journalist Ali Mivule and Ashraf Kasirye, a cameraman for Ugandan outlet Ghetto TV were deliberately shot with rubber bullets, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda (FCAU). Mivule was shot in the leg and discharged, but Kasirye, who was shot in the head, is still in the hospital and in critical condition.

According to local reports, Kasirye was shot at close range in the head and his skull was shattered, leading to bleeding on the brain.

“They were able to remove the blood from the brain, but they informed us that he might not be able to recognize people…for some time,” said opposition leader and presidential candidate Bobi Wine. Kasirye was covering his event when the police attacked him.

This is not the first time journalists have been deliberately shot by Ugandan security while covering the opposition—journalist Moses Bwayo was shot in the face last month.

“Journalists have repeatedly warned that our safety is in danger, but the Ugandan security forces are not listening. Journalism is not a crime. Shooting journalists is,” according to a statement by FCAU.

Ugandan journalists walked out of a security press conference on Monday in response to the ongoing deliberate targeting and harassment of journalists by the security forces.

Arrests, harassment, death

In the Comoros, Oubeidillah Mchangama, a journalist with Facebook-based FCBK FM was detained on 11 December, then arrested on 14 December, as authorities allege his reporting on a gas shortage disturbed public order, according to reports cited by CPJ. Although he was released and the charges were dropped, he was accused of spreading false news over the alleged government mismanagement of public funds that he had reported on in September.

On the same day on the other side of the continent, Ghanaian police arrested journalist Oheneba Boamah Bennie, a host of Power FM radio. Although now released on bail, he had been accused of calling President Nana Akufo-Addo ‘anti-democratic’, which was deemed a violation of the Ghanaian constitution.

On 27 November, Chadian police raided Radio FM Liberté in N’Djamena, the capital and arrested at least 70 people, many of whom were from different media outlets and participating in a training. CPJ reported that the journalists were also teargassed. Although all were eventually released without being charged, one journalist was beaten by police.

In July, Zimbabwe police arrested freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono saying that he, among others, were inciting violence ahead of street demonstrations against government corruption. Chin’ono is renowned in Zimbabwe for uncovering government graft relating to Covid-19 supplies.

In Nigeria, a young trainee reporter, Onifade Pelumi, was found dead in a morgue in Lagos, almost two weeks after he was arrested while covering a demonstration outside a food warehouse.

Earlier in the year, veteran Regent Africa Times reporter and editor Alex Ogbu, 50, died after being shot in the head at a protest in Abuja, Nigeria.

Cameroon crimes

Popular Cameroonian Pidgin journalist Samuel Ebuwe Ajiekia, known as Wazizi, was arrested by the Cameroonian military in 2019, but had disappeared in custody. It was only in June 2020 that the military admitted that he had died in custody—10 months before.

Wazizi was an anglophone and pidgin journalist and had covered the Anglophone Crisis. However, security forces did not discriminate in September, when RFI francophone correspondent Polycarpe Essomba was beaten while covering an opposition demonstration in the capital, Yaoundé.

Al-Shabaab kills reporters

The Somali insurgent group Al-Shabaab continue to carry out attacks against civilians, and in 2020 it targeted two television journalists.

Universal TV’s Abdulwali “Online” Ali Hassan, was gunned down in February, and Kalsan TV’s Said Yusuf Ali, was stabbed to death in May, according to CPJ.

And while security services and police have had a hand in harassing journalists, the Covid-19 pandemic took an Egyptian journalist after he was arrested for participating in an Al-Jazeera TV network broadcast.

Mohamed Monir was arrested and tested positive for coronavirus before he was released, shortly before his death. It is alleged that he caught the deadly virus in prison.