KIGALI - A two-day conference of regional media practitioners ended in Kigali yesterday with an appeal for their governments to embrace media freedom.
According to the declaration released at the end of the meeting, practitioners raised concerns of individual risks and dangers journalists in the Eastern African region still face.
“We are greatly concerned on journalist harassment, cruel and degrading punishments, torture, intimidation, death threats, imprisonment, abductions, arbitrary arrests, killings and unlawful detention,” the declaration reads.
Representatives of journalists’ bodies the Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Tanzania, Seychelles, Comoros, Rwanda and Burundi, participated in the conference that was held under the theme: Media, Dialogue, Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation.
According to the recommendations, participants were deeply disturbed that media professionals in Eastern Africa are often subjected to statements that degenerate and dishearten them such as smear campaigns, political persecution, vilification and constant surveillance.
The conference was jointly organized by the Eastern Africa Journalists Association and its affiliate Rwanda Journalists Association.
“As we meet here we remember our beloved colleagues who lost their lives while doing their job of journalism. We believe that the media is the best tool for dialogue and reconciliation,” said Omar Faruk, the Secretary General of the Eastern Africa Journalist Association
He pointed out that the East African media has been suffering abuse, mainly in Eritrea which is leading the list on harassment and illegal arrest of journalists in the world.
During the closing session, Gaspard Safari, the president of Rwanda Journalists Association, called upon governments in Eastern Africa to reform media laws and other restrictive laws regarding media freedom to conform to international standards.
Meanwhile, during her closing remarks, Louise Mushikiwabo, the Minister of Information, urged participants to be the voice of the continent by telling stories about the continent as they happen since they are the ones on ground.
“I urge you to promote ethics and be the champions of ethics in the region and Africa in general,” Mushikiwabo said.
Mushikiwabo challenged the practitioners to live up to the 2009 theme by enhancing the culture of dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation in the region.
The conference coincided with the World Press Freedom Day which is celebrated annually on May 3.
The closing ceremony was graced by the Minister for Cabinet Affairs, Dr. Charles Murigande and Vincent Karega, the State Minister for Environment and Mining.