Rwanda Cameroon Ivory Coast Senegal Dem. Rep. of Congo Mauritania Sierra Leone Zimbabwe
OVERVIEW OF SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA
During elections throughout the region, authorities used criminal defamation to
intimidate and silence the news media in numerous crackdowns.
In Ivory Coast, security forces temporarily shut down all opposition newspapers,
and in Gambia, a major newspaper was forced to close for five months.
Journalists in Ethiopia worked under a special election "Code of Conduct." In
Burundi, the media situation quickly darkened during elections, as the government
aggressively pursued "criminal defamation" and charges of "treason" to suppress
Lengthy prison sentences were imposed on reporters in Rwanda for "contempt of
head of state" and "inciting public disorder." Many reporters fled the country rather
than serve go to jail on trumped up charges.
There were some bright spots. In Uganda, the Constitutional Court rejected
criminal sedition on the grounds that it violated Uganda's constitution. In Sierra
Leone, passage of a freedom of information act raised hope that seditious libel and
defamation would be decriminalized.
After Niger's president Mamadou Tandja was overthrown in a military coup, the
new government quickly moved to set up a media oversight body and to
BOTSWANA Population: 1.9 million Press Freedom Rating: Partly Free
Tribal chief Kgosi Kgafela settled out of court a
“contempt” suit against several newspapers. Mmegi, Monitor, SundayStandard and The Echo reported on the
increase in floggings since Kgosi became chief, and
resulting suits against him by his alleged victims.
Relevant Laws Penal Code (1964) Art. 50 (Seditious Intention): is defined as, among other things, the intention “to
bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of the
President or the Government of Botswana as established by law; to bring into
hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice.”
Art. 51 (Seditious Offenses) provides that “any person who….utters any
words with a seditious intention . . . prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale,
distributes or reproduces any seditious publication . . . imports any seditious
publication, unless he has no reason to believe that it is seditious,” is guilty of an
offense and “liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years; and any
seditious publication shall be forfeited to the State.” The article bans possessing
seditious publications, and specifies that printing machines used to print such
materials may be seized or temporarily confiscated.
Art. 60 (Defamation of Foreign Princes): Any person who, without such
justification or excuse as would be sufficient in the case of the defamation of a
private person, publishes anything intended to be read, or any sign or visible
representation, tending to degrade, revile or expose to hatred or contempt any
foreign prince, potentate, ambassador or other foreign dignitary with intent to
disturb the peace and friendship between Botswana and the country to which such
prince, potentate, ambassador or dignitary belongs, is guilty of an offense.
Art. 90 (Offensive conduct conducive to breaches of the peace): Any person
who in a public place or at a public gathering uses threatening,abusive or insulting
words or behavior is guilty of an offense and is liable toimprisonment for a term
not exceeding six months.
Art. 91 (Insults relating to Botswana): Any person who does any act or utters
any words or publishes any writing with intent to insult or to bring into contempt
a) the Arms or Ensigns Armorial of Botswana;
b) the National Flag of Botswana;
c) the Standard of the President of Botswana;
d) the National Anthem of Botswana; is guilty of an offense and liable to a fine not
exceeding 500 pula (approx. US$75).
Art. 93 (Abusive, obscene or insulting language on President and others): Any
person who in a public place or at a public gathering uses abusive, obscene or
insulting language in relation to the President, any other member of the National
Assembly or any public officer is guilty of an offense and liable to a fine not
exceeding 400 pula (approx. US$60).
Art. 192 (Definition of criminal defamation): Any person who, by print,
writing, painting, effigy, or by any means otherwise than solely by gestures,
spoken words, or other sounds, unlawfully publishes any defamatory matter
concerning another person, with intent to defame that other person, is guilty of the
offense termed criminal defamation.
Art. 193 (Definition of defamatory matter): Defamatory matter is matter likely
to injure the reputation of any person by exposing him to hatred, contempt or
ridicule, or likely to damage any person in his profession or trade by an injury to
Art. 194 (Definition of publication): 1. A person publishes defamatory matter if
he causes the print, writing, painting, effigy or other means by which the
defamatory matter is conveyed to be so dealt with, either by exhibition, reading,
recitation, description, delivery, or otherwise, that the defamatory meaning thereof
becomes known or is likely to become known to either the person defamed or any
2. It is not necessary for criminal defamation that a defamatory meaning should be
directly or completely expressed; and it suffices if such meaning and its application
to the person alleged to be defamed can be collected either from the alleged
defamation itself or from any extrinsic circumstances, or partly by the one and
partly by the other means.
Art. 195 (Definition of unlawful publication): Any publication of defamatory
matter concerning a person is unlawful within the meaning of this Division, unless:
a) the matter is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published;
b) it is privileged on one of the grounds hereafter mentioned in this Division.
Art. 196 outlines circumstances in which publishing defamatory matter is
absolutely privileged, such as when the material is published under authority of the
President or in the National Assembly. In such cases, falsity and bad faith are not
Art. 197 specifies circumstances in which publishing defamatory matter is
conditionally privileged, meaning it is privileged if also published in good faith,
and the parties involved were under a legal, moral or social duty to
publish/receive the publication.
Arts. 198 and 199 specify when publishing a defamatory matter shall not be
deemed to have been committed in good faith, and outlines circumstances in
which good faith is presumed.
BURUNDI Population: 8.5 million Press Freedom Rating: Not Free
Relations between the media and government went from
hopeful to hostile during 2010 elections. Repression of free
speech reached levels not seen in recent years. Journalists
reported an increase in threats and attacks, and opposition
parties fled the country.
Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, editor of online news site Netpress, was charged with
treason and defamation. Kavumbagu published an article critical of the Burundi
security forces following a suicide bombing by Al Shabab, a Somali terrorist
group. At year’s end, he was still imprisoned. In 2008, Kavumbagu was jailed for
seven months, charged with defamation for an article on misuse of public funds
during a visit to the Olympic Games in Beijing. He was acquitted.
In August, Thierry Ndayishimiye, Editor in Chief of Arc-en-Ciel weekly, was
charged with defamation for a story he published about corruption at Regideso, the
state-run energy company. He was awaiting trial at year’s end.
Relevant Laws November 2003 Media Law (Law no. 1/025): Art. 50: Notwithstanding the relevant sections of the Penal Code, a publisher,
editor or journalist who publishes information that insults the head of state or is
defamatory or insulting to a public or private individual, shall be punished by a
term of imprisonment of six months to five years and a fine of 100,000 to 300,000
Burundi francs (approx. US$82-247). The penalty is harsher than that imposed in
the Penal Code.
Penal Code (April 2009) Art. 251 provides that, anyone who maliciously and publicly imputes a specific
fact to another, of a nature so as to affect the person’s honor or esteem or expose
the person to public contempt, shall be punished by imprisonment of one month to
one year and a fine of 10,000 to 100,000 Burundi francs (approx. US$8-82), or
only one of these penalties.
Art. 252 provides that anyone who publicly insults another person shall be
punished by imprisonment of one month to one year and a fine of 10,000 to
100,000 Burundi francs (approx. US$8-82), or only one of these penalties.
Art. 378 prohibits contemptuous words, gestures, threats or acts against a person in
public service, in the course of or in connection with the performance of his or her
duty, which are abusive, defamatory and likely to impair the dignity of his or her
Art. 379 provides that insult against the Head of State is punishable by a prison
term of six months to five years and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 (approx. US$8-41).
Art. 381 specifies that, where the insult is addressed to the Head of State, a
parliamentarian, a government official, a magistrate, an officer or agent of public
authority or law enforcement officials in the course of or in connection with the
exercise of their duties, the perpetrator is punished by six months to two years in
prison and a fine of 50,000 to 100,000 Burundi francs (approx. US$41-82), or one
of these penalties. When the insult takes place at a meeting or a public meeting or
during a court hearing, the penalties consist of six months to three years
imprisonment and a fine of 50,000 to 200,000 francs (approx. US$41-164), or one
of these penalties.
Art. 383 prohibits publicly insulting, defacing or destroying the flag or national
symbol of the Republic of Burundi. Punishments range from two months to five
years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 Burundi francs (approx. US$8-
41), or one of these penalties
CAMEROON Population: 19.5 million Press Freedom Rating: Not Free
The law gives the government the authority to criminalize
civil libel suits at will. Libel threats are routinely used to
discourage journalists investigating corruption.
Jean Bosco Talla was released from jail after a month upon paying $6,800 in
damages. Talla, publication director of Germinal weekly, was convicted of
“insulting” the President for printing excerpts of a book alleging homosexuality
among high officials. He had been sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term.
Author Bertrand Teyou was convicted of “insult to character” of the President’s
wife upon the release of his book “The Belle of the Banana Republic: Chantal
Byia, From the Streets to the Palace.” He was also charged with organizing an
“illegal demonstration” for scheduling a public reading. He notified authorities
beforehand and was arrested before the reading could proceed. Prosecution was
swift. Teyou could not get a lawyer in time. He was ordered to pay $4,371
damages or serve a two-years term. Unable to pay, he began his term in November.
Relevant Laws Penal Code Sect. 152: 1. Defines contempt as “any defamation, abuse or threat conveyed by
gesture, word or cry uttered in any place open to the public, or by any procedure
intended to reach the public.”
2. Applies the same defenses to contempt that apply to defamation, including
legislative and judicial privilege, privilege for accurate reports of legislative and
judicial proceedings, and fair comment and criticism.
3. Provides a four-month statute of limitations.
Sect. 153: 1. Contempt of the President or Vice-President of the Republic, “of any
person exercising the whole or a part of their prerogatives,” or of any foreign head
of state, punishable by one to five years imprisonment and/or a fine of 20,000 to 20
million CFA francs (approx. US$45-45,000).
2. Contempt of “any head of government, or of any foreign minister of a foreign
government, or of a diplomatic representative accredited to the government of the
Republic,” punishable by six months to two years imprisonment and/or a fine of
20,000 to 20 million CFA francs (approx. US$45-45,000).
Truth is not a defense.
Sect. 154: Contempt (a) of any court, any of the armed forces, or “any public body
or public administration”; or (b) “in relation to his office or position, of any
member of a government or assembly, federal or federated, or of any public
servant,” punishable by 10 days to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of 20,000
to 20 million CFA francs (approx. US$45-45,000). Truth is a defense in
Sects. 305, 306: A general criminal defamation law, defining defamation as
“factual imputations that injure a person’s honor or reputation.” A number of
defenses, including truth under certain circumstances, and absolute and qualified
privileges, are recognized. Defamation of the dead is punishable if the intent is “to
injure the honor or reputation” of a living spouse or heirs. Punishment is six days
to six months jail and/or a fine of 5,000 to 2 million CFA francs (approx. US$10-
4,500), halved for non-public defamation, doubled for anonymous defamation.
Sect. 307: 1. “Abuse,” defined as publicly using, without provocation, “any
insulting expression, or contemptuous gestures or words, or invective without
imputation of fact,” is punishable by five days to three months imprisonment
and/or a fine of 5,000 to 100,000 CFA francs (approx. US$10-230).
2. A complaint by the injured party or his representative is needed for prosecution.
3. Four-month statute of limitations.
4. Applies to abuse of the memory of a deceased person if the intent is “to injure
the honor or reputation” of a living spouse or heirs.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO Population: 67 million Press Freedom Rating: Not Free
Journalists reporting corruption are routinely placed in
“preventive detention,” although many criminal defamation
cases never go to trial. Defamation suits are used to disrupt
investigations and encourage self-censorship.
Africa News publisher Achille Kadima Mulamba was fined $10,000 and
sentenced to eight months in prison for “defamation” for accusations of
embezzlement against an official at the European Development Fund. Mulamba
was free on appeal late in the year.
Tumba Lumembu was charged with “insulting the head of state” for remarks to
friends in public. Lumembu, a reporter for Tempête des Tropiques, disappeared for
two weeks until the UN pressured ANR (Congolese national intelligence agency)
into admitting it was holding him, whereupon the insult charge was brought against
him. Lumembu often wrote political pieces criticizing the government.
Kambale “El Kate” Maghaniryo of Radio Television Gabren Beni (RTGB) was
sentenced to two years in prison for defaming a police official. He went into hiding
and was sentenced in absentia.
In July, Pascal Mulunda was charged with “criminal defamation” over an article
he wrote accusing a Mining Ministry official of fraud. Mulunda is editor of the
weekly Le Monitor. The article also appeared in Le Barometre.
Popol Ntula, publisher of Le Tonnerre, was arrested in April and charged with
defaming a local mayor in an article critical of the mayor’s rule. Ntula Vita was
held in custody for 30 days and released on $335 bail.
Relevant Laws 2004 Code of Ethics for Journalists Art. 5: Bans insults, defamation, allegations, alteration of documents, twisting of
facts and misrepresentations. The section also bans incitement of hatred -- ethnic,
religious, regional, and racial -- and any other form of support for negative values
in the media.
1996 Press Law (No. 96-002) Art. 10: specifies that all writings may be disseminated by the press, so long as
these do not undermine public order, morals, or the honor and dignity of
Art. 77: prohibits insulting the Head of State.
Art. 78: includes in the definition of treason knowingly participating in an effort to
demoralize the army or the public in the goal of national defense.
Penal Code* Art. 74: Anyone who maliciously and publicly imputes to another person a
specific fact, of a nature as to undermine the honor or esteem for that person, or
expose that person to public contempt, shall be punished by imprisonment of eight
days to one year and a fine, or one of these penalties.
Art. 75: Anyone who publicly insults a person shall be punished by
imprisonment of eight days to two months and a fine, or one of these penalties.
Art. 76: Punishment consisting of imprisonment of up to five years and a fine, or
only one of these penalties, will be imposed on:
1. anyone who makes a slanderous denunciation, in writing or verbally, to a
judicial authority or a public officer with authority to act thereon;
2. anyone who makes to another person, in writing or verbally, slanderous
accusations against his subordinate.
Art. 77: Insults not addressed in the preceding section shall be punished by
imprisonment of eight days and a fine, or only one of these penalties.
Art. 136: 1. Anyone who, with words, facts, gestures or threats, insults a member
of the Bureau Politique [since abolished], a member of the National Assembly, of
government or the Constitutional Court, in the exercise or because of the exercise
of their functions, is punishable by imprisonment of six to 12 months and a fine, or
only one of these penalties.
2, Anyone who, with words, facts, gestures or threats, insults other authorities or
the police force, in the exercise of because of the exercise of their functions, is
punishable by imprisonment of seven to 15 days and a fine, or one of these
Art. 137: Insults committed against constitutional bodies are punishable in the
same manner as those committed against the members of such bodies.
*The Penal Code, enacted in 1940, specifies possible penalties in zaires, the country’s former currency. It does not appear to have been updated since then. This translation therefore omits the penalty amounts in the original text.
ETHIOPIA Population: 84.9 million Press Freedom Rating: Not Free
In the run-up to May 2010 elections, journalists were
issued a “Code of Conduct” by the election board,
restricting their movements and limiting their ability to
cover the electoral process.
17-year-old Akram Ezedin was detained in September, reportedly for articles
critical of the Islamic Council. Ezedin is acting editor of Al Quds. He took over in
January after his father, the editor, was sentenced to a year in jail for defaming the
prime minister in a 2008 interview with The Guardian of London. Although his
father was released, Ezedin was still in prison at year’s end and had not been
charged. Pretrial detention is illegal.
Relevant Laws The Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation (No. 590/2008) entered into force in December 2008. It repealed the Press
Proclamation No. 34/1992.
Sect. 41(2) provides that, in an action for defamation through mass media the court
may award, with regard to gravity of the moral damage, compensation up to
100,000 birr (about US$7,500).
Sect. 43 (7) provides that prosecutions for defamation and false accusation
against persons or private organizations through the mass media shall be
instituted and conducted by private plaintiffs. The section explicitly excludes
prosecutions for false accusation and defamation against “the constitutionally
established legislative, executive or judicial authorities.”