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Last Updated: Monday, 4 June 2007, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Africa 'must scrap insult laws'
By Peter Feuilherade
BBC Monitoring, Cape Town

African governments have been urged to abolish criminal defamation and "insult" laws, which are in force in 48 of the continent's 53 countries.

Man reads Ghana newspaper
Ghana is one of the few African nations with no "insult" laws
The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) congress in Cape Town heard that legislation outlawing criticism of authority figures is "the greatest scourge" of press freedom in Africa.

In its "Table Mountain Declaration", the body has urged African countries to protect press freedom by scrapping the laws which prevent criticism of leaders in particular.

The African press is crippled by repressive measures, which include the jailing and harassment of journalists, WAN says.

Governments use these laws "ruthlessly, to prevent critical appraisal of their performance and to deprive the public from information about their misdemeanours", the WAN said.

Journalists under pressure

In the first five months of 2007, "insult" laws led to the harassment, arrest or imprisonment of 103 journalists in 26 African countries, it added.

Raymond Louw, from the Southern Africa Report, said South Africa, Togo, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique were the only countries on the continent to have no "insult" laws. Other nations showed little inclination to get rid of them, he said.

Some delegates at the Cape Town congress said African governments "would not hand out media freedom on a plate", and questioned whether WAN's call would have any impact.

But the organisation hopes that because it speaks for 18,000 newspapers, news agencies and press groups from more than 100 countries, its declaration will have some impact on Africa's leaders.

Opening the WAN congress, South African President Thabo Mbeki said there was particular anger over the apparent impunity enjoyed by some governments in their actions against journalists.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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