Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma was strongly urged to ban the Secrecy Bill and send it back to Parliament for reconsideration before the elections.
On Sunday, International Press Institute (IPI) executive director Alison Bethel McKenzie said it was not too late for Zuma to add his name and personal commitment to abolish the law.
Bethel McKenzie was speaking at the official opening of the institute’s 63rd World Congress in Cape Town.
“Doing so is not just important to South Africa, it is important to all of Africa and beyond because it sends the message that Africans can be global leaders on this issue… as Ghana did when it abolished criminal defamation more than a decade ago,” said McKenzie.
In her formal report to the congress on the state of press freedom worldwide, she told delegates how journalists had come under siege throughout the world.
She said Somalia remained Africa’s most dangerous country for journalists.
Twenty-four journalists have been killed in Somalia since the start of 2012.
“Meanwhile, Eritrea dictator (Isaias Afwerki) has locked away journalists and thrown away the key… some colleagues have languished in prisons for years. Some have died in confinement,” her report said.
She also highlighted her recent visit to Ethiopia, where five journalists are imprisoned on terrorism charges.
“When we were there last November, these journalists were being denied access to their lawyers, friends and colleagues. One of them, a courageous young woman named Reeyot Alemu, is battling breast cancer from her prison cell.
“Her struggle and that of her colleagues – Solomon Kebede, Wubset Taye, Eskinder Nega and Yusuf Getachew – brought tears to the eyes of our members, who spoke with those closest to them.”
She said journalism remained a profoundly dangerous profession. “IPI tracked 119 journalists killed in the line of duty… a slight decline from the 133 who died in 2012, but nonetheless an appalling toll.”