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‘Amnesty committed to protecting journalists’

Pascalinah Kabi

JOHANNESBURG – THE newly appointed Secretary General of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo, says his organisation remains steadfast in its commitment to protect the rights of the journalists in the Southern African region.

Addressing media representatives from Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia on Thursday evening in Johannesburg, Mr Naidoo said the organisation was aware that journalists from the rest of the region operated in far tougher conditions than their South African colleagues.

The meeting was aimed at gathering views on the pressing issues that southern African journalists wanted his office to prioritise in its human rights work.

The meeting was also called to introduce Mr Naidoo to the media as he begins his task of leading “the world’s largest human rights organisation” during some of the most turbulent times for human rights in recent history.

Mr Naidoo was appointed to succeed Salil Shetty with effect from this month after the latter had served two terms as secretary general from 2010.

Mr Naidoo has held several leadership roles including chairperson of the Global Call for Climate Action, founding chairperson of the Global Call to Action against Poverty and secretary general and chief executive officer of CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

“To be honest, the South African journalists have it really easy compared to what you folks (from the rest of southern Africa) have been through,” Mr Naidoo said.

He cited the arrest and 15 months detention of eSwatini journalist Bheki Makhubu as an example of the human rights violations that journalists endured in the course of their work.

“It was very inspiring to meet here despite what you (Mr Makhubu) have survived. I was moved by your story.

“You presented your story as if it was not such a big deal but it was a big deal. Anybody who spent one day in prison knows what it is like so I thank you for your strength and courage,” Mr Naidoo said to Mr Makhubu who attended the Thursday function.

On Friday, Mr Naidoo reiterated Amnesty’s support for human rights work when he met human rights activists from across southern Africa.

“Today I met brave and courageous human rights defenders from across Southern Africa who are risking their lives every day by demanding justice, accountability and equality.

“We need to see much more intra-African solidarity for the cause of justice. That is why I chose to start in my role as Secretary General here in Africa and to speak with activists from across the region to show that we at Amnesty International are serious about working side by side with them to address the key human rights challenges affecting all Africans,” Mr Naidoo said on Friday.

Mr Naidoo promised to ensure that the input of the journalists would be factored in to ensure that Amnesty International would effectively mobilise support for media practitioners in in southern Africa whenever they were subjected to repression.

“There are some interesting possibilities that are emerging right now and the main thing you should know is that Amnesty will not be able to succeed in its work if the journalist community is not able to survive because you (journalists) tell the people what’s happening. And without you telling people what’s happening, we cannot communicate with the people. Social media can only go so far but it can never go all the way so we thank you (journalists) for everything that you do.”

Mr Naidoo said part of his vision was to see Amnesty increasing its contribution to the fight against climate change focusing on gender equality, socio and economic rights as well as the freedoms of association, assembly and expression.

He said the vision was inspired by the decisions of the Amnesty International Annual General Meeting in Poland last month where it was agreed that the organisation should get involved in the fight against climate change.

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