Africa

OVERVIEW

In 2013, Front Line Defenders received reports from across the continent of HRDs facing death threats, suffering physical attacks, or enduring police and judicial harassment. Attempts to undermine the work of HRDs also came in the form of draconian legislation, crackdowns on public events and demonstrations, government take-over or closure of independent NGOs, and smear campaigns.

Physical attacks were reported in Angola, Cameroon, DRC, Kenya, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Some of these attacks resulted in deaths. In July came news of the deplorable, brutal murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe of the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, an outspoken activist who worked for the rights of LGBTI people. In August, security officers in Moyale, Kenya’s North Eastern region, shot and killed Hassan Guyo of Strategies for Northern Development. In November, Kenya also lost Philipp Ochieng Onguje, founder and co-ordinator of Usalama Reforms Forum, an organisation working on security issues and campaigning for substantial police reforms. Onguje lost his life after his house caught fire in suspicious circumstances, which were never clarified, and which also caused his wife to be hospitalised.

HRDs in countries affected by armed conflict continued to face serious difficulties and threats as they tried to document human rights violations by armed groups. In the Eastern region of the DRC, a HRD was abducted by an armed group in April, while working in the area under its control. In May, more than 80 human rights groups issued a joint appeal to the newly nominated UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, calling for an end to impunity for members of rebel group M23, which they accused of “abducting, beating and killing” their colleagues. While the Congolese army defeated the M23 in early November, it remains unclear whether its members and leaders will be held accountable for their crimes. In Somalia, journalists reporting on human rights continued to be subject to violent attacks. In October, unidentified gunmen shot Mohamed Mohamud Tima’adde six times and he died a few days later in a local hospital. Tima’adde was a Universal TV reporter who had been investigating and exposing a range of human rights issues.

Arbitrary arrests and police clampdowns on HRDs were reported in Angola, Cameroon, Chad, DRC, Gabon, Kenya, Mauritania, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, The Gambia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In January, police in Uganda arrested three members of Twerwaneho Listeners Club (TLC) accusing them of making defamatory statements against the presidential family during a radio talk show. Two months later, TLC’s bank accounts were unlawfully frozen by the regional police criminal investigation department in Fort Portal. In The Gambia, renowned Muslim cleric and human rights defender, Imam Baba Leigh, was released without charges in May, after five months in incommunicado detention. He had been arrested for declaring the execution of nine death row inmates to be inimical to Islamic teaching. In Mauritania, police violently disrupted a sit-in in late September in the town of Boutilimit organised by members of the Initiative pour la Résurgence du Mouvement Abolitionniste en Mauritanie, and arrested five HRDs.

The year was also marked by the introduction of regressive legislation that directly or indirectly interfered with the work of HRDs. In June, Burundi passed a draconian media law that required journalists to reveal their sources. The law also banned the media from publishing information about national defence, public safety, state security and the local currency. In July, the National Assembly of The Gambia amended the 2009 Information and Communications Act introducing a 15-year jail term or a fine of 3 million Dalasi (approximately €65,000), or both, for the offence of spreading ‘false news’ about the Government or public officials. The act will have a chilling effect on an already weakened civil society. In Kenya, the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act and the Media Council Act, passed in December, introduced heavy fines for journalists and media companies if a government-controlled regulatory board finds them in breach of a government-dictated code of conduct. Also tabled was an amendment to the 2012 Public Benefit Organization Act seeking to cap foreign funding for NGOs at 15% of their budgets. While the amendment was eventually rejected, the political intentions behind it – namely to bring a number of key human rights groups to their knees – remain and may lead to further negative developments in 2014. In Uganda, in August, Parliament passed the Public Order Management Act, which requires police approval if three or more people wish to assemble to discuss political issues. The infamous Anti- Homosexuality Bill, pending since 2009, was passed in December 2013, subject to it being signed into law by the President. In South Sudan, a draft Non-Governmental Organisations Bill was discussed in November which included problematic provisions on registration, its annual renewal, the permissible scope of NGO work, as well as government control. The bill remained pending at year’s end.

Fabricated charges and court proceedings continued to be used as one of the most prevalent ways of interfering with the work of HRDs. Cases were reported in Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Kenya, Mauritania, Somalia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. In Gabon, environmental HRD Marc Ona Essangui was given a six-month suspended prison term and a substantial fine following a defamation lawsuit initiated by the Chief of Cabinet of the President. Essangui had published articles on the activities of a foreign agribusiness firm questioning the Government’s stance in relation to its environmental impact. In north-western Cameroon, members of Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association (MBOSCUDA), a social organisation defending the rights of Mbororo pastoralists, faced trial over unsubstantiated allegations of ‘misinformation’ in connection with their efforts to seek truth and justice for an attempted murder. In Angola, journalist Rafael Marques faced multiple criminal charges in connection with the publication of a book detailing government corruption as well as cases of killings, torture, forced displacement and intimidation against villagers and diamond diggers. In Somalia, Radio Shabelle’s journalist Mohamed Bashir Hashi was arrested and faced a defamation trial in connection with an interview with a victim of sexual violence. He and the victim were found guilty and had to pay a fine to avoid a six-month prison term.

In Rwanda, in July, the takeover of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR) by individuals believed to be favourable to the Government – after unlawfully ousting the organisation’s legitimate leadership – silenced the country’s last independent human rights organisation. Civil society continued to have no space to operate in Eritrea, where dozens of journalists and other dissenting voices remained in long-term imprisonment without charge.

URGENT CASES

Musa Usman Ndamba
2014/03/31

On 28 March 2014, human rights defender Mr Musa Usman Ndamba, a defender of the rights of the Mbororo community, appeared before the Bamenda Court of First Instance, and the trial was once again...

Mohamed Salah Abdelrahman with his mother
2014/03/24

On 20 March 2014, human rights defender Mr Mohamed Salah Abdelrahman was forcibly disappeared at Khartoum International Airport as he was travelling to a workshop in Tunisia. His family have not been provided with any information to his whereabouts, nor has...

Violence against HRDs in DRC
2014/03/14

On 9 March 2014, armed assailants believed to belong to a local militia raided the offices of human rights organisation AGAPE Hauts-Plateaux, tortured human rights defenders Messrs Alexis Nganire and David Muhorana and torched a substantial...

Arrest and fear of torture during arbitrary detention of Abdelmonem Adam
2014/03/14

At approximately 3:30pm on 13 March 2014, human rights defender and lawyer Mr Abdelmonem Adam was arrested at his office in the Dosa building in central Khartoum by four National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officers in plain clothes.