Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law

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Message from the West African Journalists Association

By Peter Quaqua, President, WAJA

As we observe yet another of Word Press Freedom Day, The West Africa African journalists Association (WAJA), salutes the courage and resilience of all journalists who have remained true to their callings in service to humanity.

Despite the overwhelming consciousness created for press freedom by regional and international organizations, journalists and media workers continuous to be subjected to all forms of harassment, torture, attack and sometimes imprisonment and death in the performance of their jobs.

The sacrifices we journalists make are well documented because we are the real guarantors of democracy, freedom and justice; that is why we are celebrated on May 3 every year around the world.

The theme for the 25th anniversary of the Windhoek declaration “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law” is perhaps the most important subject in present day advocacy for media rights especially in our part of the world.

We have increasingly seen political leaders manipulate legal systems to further inhibit the press in the name of the rule of law. Court rooms have been effectively turned into weapons of repression as opposed to being chambers of justice. They use repressive libel laws to throw journalists in jail for exposing the excesses they commit against the people they vowed to protect. We must stand up to them.

We called your attention to recent ruling by the ECOWAS Court against the Gambia government’s use of criminal libel laws to convict four journalists. Essentially, this provides some hope for redress and countries should ECOWAS member states take note. The Court outlawed the action against the journalists who had been arrested, detained and tortured for doing their work.

Our hope is that our political leaders will respect the commitments they’ve made to regional and international protocols by adapting their laws to international standards.

We challenge our respective governments in WAJA countries to see reasons to reform media laws and enable the legal environment for press freedom and freedom of expression. We must insist on an independent judiciary that works for all citizens, not only journalists. This way, our democracy is protected and justice assured.

Additionally, governments must spare no efforts in bringing to justice people who deliberately kill journalists to demonstrate their commitment to press freedom and fight against impunity.

Let’s work together to abolish criminal speech laws across West Africa. Let’s restore confidence of our citizens in the legal and justice systems. Let’s strengthen and sustain democracy across the sub-region by giving voice to all our people regardless of where they are. Important still, let’s remain honest and ethical with the public trust.

In solidarity for press freedom, justice, democracy and the rule of law, we remain.

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