As journalists around the world celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, global media advocacy organisation, Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), has asked the Chairperson of the African Union (AU), Nkosazana Zuma, to call for the release of all imprisoned journalists in the continent.

CPJ, in an open letter to Ms. Zuma by its Executive Director, Joel Simon, also appealed for justice for all journalists killed in the course of duty.

“We urge you to use your office to persuade member states to comply with the letter and spirit of conventions they have signed that uphold press freedom,” it said.

The organisation said 41 journalists across Africa would be spending the Press Freedom Day in prisons “in direct reprisal for their work.”

“It is particularly disturbing that Ethiopia and the Gambia, which host offices of the African Union, are among the nations holding journalists in jail. These imprisonments have silenced important voices, often in contravention of regional and international rulings,” said Mr. Simon.

The organisation recognised Ethiopian journalists, Reeyot Alemu, the 2013 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize winner, who is serving a five-year term at Kality Prison; and Eskinder Nega, 2012 laureate of PEN American Centre, who is serving an 18-year term, on fabricated terrorism charges, among several journalists who should be released immediately.

In Gambia, CPJ frowned at the continued “evasiveness and inconsistent responses to regional and international inquiries” of the authorities on the whereabouts of journalist Ebrima “Chief” Manneh in violation of the rulings by the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that his detention is unlawful; and asked that he be released immediately.

CPJ said more than 80 murders of journalists have gone unsolved since 1992. It said Somalia and Nigeria are two of the deadliest places in the world for journalists.

“Nigeria and Somalia are among the worst nations in the world in combating deadly, anti-press violence, our 2013 Impunity Index has found. Five journalists have been killed with impunity in Nigeria since 2009. In Somalia, more than 20 murders have gone unsolved over the past decade. These killings are often politically motivated,” it said.

“Critical journalists are not criminals, traitors, or terrorists. Beyond supporting African journalists with training, the African Union should create an open political space that allows news media to report on issues of public interest. Vibrant, independent media that hold government leaders to account are a valuable ally in the pursuit of development and good governance,” CPJ said.

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