Investigative journalism in some parts of Africa is being hindered by the continued presence of criminal defamation laws, with journalists fearing arrests and persecution, writers organisation PEN International warned.

PEN International, an organisation which works to connect the international community of writers, is on a campaign to lobby African countries to decriminalise criminal defamation and repeal insult laws.

“The impact of these laws is having a chilling effect in relation to investigative journalism in Africa, particularly where duty holders are being held to account,”said Romana Cacchioli, PEN’s Director of International Programmes.

“The African public is not getting a full sense of the true facts of what is happening in their countries or the continent for that matter,” added Caccholi.

The organisation’s warning followed a meeting it held with the Justice and Human Rights Committee of the Pan African Parliament (PAP) at the PAP sitting in Midrand, Gauteng, this week.

PEN International also presented an updated resolution based on the Midrand Declaration and the campaign ‘Press Freedom for Development and Governance: Need for Reform.’

The state of criminal defamation and insult laws in Africa is such that while these exist in the statutes, they are used to threaten citizens.

In other cases, the prosecution is never concluded, leaving the charged individuals to live in suspense, PEN International told the committee.

The organisation, however,did acknowledge that there had been positive steps taken by some African states.

 “Countries like Ghana and Rwanda have recently decriminalised and some countries like Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe are on the way towards decriminalisation,” Cacchioli said.

President of Uganda PEN International Dr. Danson Kahyana said civil means of dealing with defamation remained the best way to deal with unprofessional conduct and abuse of freedom of expression.

“We urge governments through PAP, to help build more vibrant media councils and enact civil defamation laws through which challenges can be handled,” said Kahyana.

However, the Chairperson of the Justice and Human Rights Committee, Hon. Ignatienne Kirarukundo said while some countries made room for civil arbitration to avoid criminal defamation, citizens should not take it for granted to abuse others in the name of freedom of expression.

- African News Agency (ANA)