South Africa: Investigate Free Expression Violations in Parliament
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) must conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of the jamming of cell phone signals in South African Parliament during the State of the Nation Address, PEN American Center said today, echoing its counterparts PEN South Africa and PEN Afrikaans.
On February 12, 2015, President Jacobs Zuma’s scheduled annual address was delayed by more than 15 minutes as journalists and opposition lawmakers complained that regularly available mobile frequencies had been jammed in the South African Parliament house. After the jam was remedied, further chaos broke out as members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party were forcibly removed from the parliament. State television cameras were instructed not to shoot or otherwise cover the violent removals.
“In the digital age, journalists and public officials rely on mobile signals to file stories, coordinate with their colleagues, and communicate with their constituencies,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center. “Intentional jamming of these signals during an event of such significance is a clear act of censorship and a troubling sign for the state of free expression in South Africa. This cause for concern is underscored by the censoring of violent actions by security officials toward members of the EFF during the event.”
In 2002, ICASA passed the Electronic Communications Act, prohibiting the jamming of cellular signals under any circumstance, apart from use by National Security Cluster Departments. The act was reaffirmed in 2012.
President Zuma and lawmakers from every political party have condemned the February 12 incident and denied any prior knowledge of the jamming. Statements from PEN South Africa and PEN Afrikaans called the incident “disgraceful” and “cowardly.”
“Citizens have the right to know, and to protest, the actions of their elected officials,” said Nossel. “ICASA must conduct an immediate and thorough investigation of this blatant violation of freedom of expression and hold perpetrators—no matter their political status—accountable to the full extent of the law.”
Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to bring down barriers to free expression worldwide.