During the 38th United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva at the end of June, PEN International held a parallel event (video here) to promote its recently published investigation into defamation laws in Africa.

The report focuses on the situation in five African countries: South Africa, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zambia and Ghana. Of these five, Ghana decriminalised defamation in 2001, governments in South Africa and Sierra Leone have pledged to follow suit, while governments in Uganda and Zambia show no sign of changing their laws.

The national investigations uncovered many cases of vexatious litigation used to intimidate and discourage writers and publishers. The research included the interviewing of 38 writers and journalists, a number of who confirmed avoiding writing certain stories for fear of prosecution. There are also examples of news publications, wary of defence costs that a case might incur, interfering in editorial decisions.

The report recommends that all Member States of the African Union should abolish criminal defamation laws and release any journalists or writers detained or imprisoned on criminal defamation charges.

The IPA is preparing a policy position on this issue. We aim to release it early next year.

You can read the full report here.