Arusha — THE sheer commitment of upholding freedom of expression and safety of journalists exhibited by East African Community (EAC) partner states has impressed the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).
The Court’s President Justice Nestor Kayobera said here on Monday that it was encouraging to see partner states fully embracing the two virtues, which are also a prerequisite of development.
Justice Kayobera, who was fielding questions from journalists on the sidelines of a week-long training of judiciary actors on freedom of expression and safety of journalists, admitted that EAC member states have come a long way in achieving such a feat, noting that some of the member states blatantly violated the two in the recent past.
“It is really encouraging to see some of our partner states taking a lead role in upholding freedom of expression and safety of journalists mindful that Media freedom is in fact essential for the protection of all other human rights,” explained the EACJ president.
Justice Kayobera was quick to point out the number of cases related to the violation of freedom of expression and safety of journalists, filed at the Arusha based court as testament of how EAC partner states are eager to embrace the two virtues.
According to Justice Kayobera, Burundi Journalists Union (BJU) had in the recent past lodged a petition before the regional court asking judges to order an immediate repeal of 42 articles in the law, which they said were inimical to democracy and freedom of expression.
“The court duly ruled that sections of Burundi’s Press Law of 2013 violate democratic principles and should be repealed and it was rewarding to see the Burundi government amend such oppressive provisions and this court has shown that the rights of journalists must be protected,” he said.
Early this year, Information, Communications and Information Technology Minister Nape Nnauye, said the government was willing to amend the Media Services Act (MSA) of 2016, as part of its efforts to uphold the welfare of journalists and the media industry at large.
The move, according to the government, is to provide a conducive working environment for journalists, through which their freedom and rights will be promoted and protected.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Senior Project Officer in charge of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalist section, Mehdi Benchelah on his part argued that attaining the two was no mean feat among many countries in the world as Media practitioners continue being on the receiving end of repressive laws.
“This is a huge issue which not only affects journalists, but also deprives a population of the right to access critical and relevant information,” explained the UNESCO official.
The former journalist said the UN agency continues working closely with the judiciary as the latter enjoys a certain level of independence in raising awareness about their critical role of upholding human rights.
Mid this year, EACJ signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNESCO to collaborate in various programmes on promoting freedom of expression, access to information and rule of law within the East African Community.