Media Defence Logo

CLOSE

African Court hears first free speech case

African Court hears first free speech case

This week, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights will hear its first freedom of expression case. Brought by MLDI, it concerns the case of Lohé Issa Konaté, a journalist from Burkina Faso who served a 12 month prison sentence, was fined the equivalent of 18 annual average wages and whose newspaper was shut down for insulting and defaming a local prosecutor.

In August 2012, Lohé Issa Konaté, the editor of the newspaper L’Ouragan, published reports accusing Placide Nikiéma, the State prosecutor and the country’s main criminal court, of corruption and abuse of power. The reports alleged that a high-profile case of counterfeiting had been shelved following his intervention and that he had also intervened in a case concerning the illegal trade in second-hand cars.

In response, the prosecutor filed a criminal complaint and Konaté was prosecuted and sentenced to 12 months in prison. He was furthermore ordered to pay a fine and damages totalling US$12,000, and L’Ouragan was ordered to be closed for 6 months. The convictions were upheld on appeal.

MLDI has taken on Konaté’s case and now represents him before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. MLDI has asked the Court to rule not only that Konaté’s conviction violates his right to freedom of expression; but also that criminal laws should never be used in a dispute about reputation, and that imprisonment and closure of a media outlet are unduly harsh sanctions. Such a ruling would have an impact across African countries, most of which still enforce harsh criminal libel laws against journalists.

The case will be a landmark freedom of expression case at the African Court. A ruling by the Court that imprisonment for defamation violates the right to freedom of expression would mark a significant step forward for the protection of the right to freedom of expression across the continent.

Several journalists associations and human rights organisations have intervened in support of the application, including the Centre For Human RightsCommittee To Protect JournalistsMedia Institute Of Southern AfricaPan African Human Rights Defenders NetworkPan African Lawyers Union; the Southern Africa Litigation CentreWorld Association of Newspapers and News PublishersPEN International and the PEN centers of MalawiAlgeriaNigeriaSierra Leone and South Africa. The intervention by these organisations elaborates on the negative impact that criminal defamation laws have had on the development of journalism across Africa and the real ‘chilling effect’ caused by the prospect of imprisonment for a libel case. Lawyers for the Pan African Lawyers Union and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre will be addressing the court on this issue; marking the first time that interveners will have been allowed to speak before the court as well as provide written submissions.

The hearing before the Court will be on March 20-21 and a ruling is expected by the middle of the year.

Konaté is represented before the Court by MLDI’s Senior Legal Counsel Nani JansenJohn Jones QC of Doughty Street Chambers and Steven Finizio of Wilmer Hale 

Recent News

Las Volcánicas: sued for reporting on allegations of sexual abuse

Matilde de Los Milagros Londoño and Catalina Ruiz-Navarro are two Colombian journalists, founders of the news outlet Las Volcánicas. After extensive research, on 24 June 2020 they published a report denouncing eight cases of alleged sexual abuse and harassment against women by the renowned Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra. Soon afterwards Guerra launched a series of […]

Read

Guinea: Our Application Following the Internet Shutdowns

Media Defence files application to ECOWAS Court against Guinea following government-ordered internet shutdowns Media Defence has filed an application to the ECOWAS Court on behalf of four applicants after Guinea cut internet access across the country in March 2020, and again in October 2020. The shutdowns were imposed at critical moments in Guinea’s democracy. In […]

Read

Guinée: Media Defence Dépose une Requête suite aux Coupures d’Internet

Media Defence dépose une requête devant la Cour de Justice de la CEDEAO contre la Guinée suite aux coupures d’internet ordonnées par le gouvernement Media Defence a déposé une requête auprès de la Cour de Justice de la CEDEAO au nom de quatre requérants après que la Guinée ait coupé l’accès à Internet dans tout […]

Read