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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Namibia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Namibia, February 1999, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

As of December 31, 1998

Parliamentary representatives of the ruling South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) pushed through a constitutional amendment allowing President Sam Nujoma to seek a third five-year term in December 1999. As Nujoma refuses to cede power, tensions between the government and the media, which have been escalating over several years, have risen to a new high.

On December 14, Defense Minister Erikki Nghimtina ordered ministry officials to withhold all news and information about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo from the independent daily Namibian; at year's end he subsequently extended the news blackout to all print media, but did not elaborate on the reasons for the blackout. The minister cited "distortions" in Namibian's coverage of the conflict, which was available to Congolese Rally for Democracy rebels on the Internet.

The government's treatment of the press during wartime is only the latest in a string of official actions and statements during the year that has raised concern among international and regional press freedom organizations. Proposed laws, such as the Powers, Privileges and Immunities Act of 1996, would require journalists and others to reveal their sources. On February 13, Judge Nic Hanna subpoenaed Hannes Smith, editor of the Windhoek Observer, to surrender documents in connection with an article published in the January 27, 1996, edition of the independent newspaper. The article stated that an employee of the Windhoek Observer had met with one of the people involved in the September 1989 killing of Anton Lubowski, a lawyer and SWAPO political activist. When Smith failed to produce the documents, he was sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of court.

Private radio stations operate relatively freely, and even state-controlled broadcast outlets, which far outnumber the privately owned stations, have, on occasion, presented reporting that scrutinized the government. However, on June 25, a reporter for the Namibian News Agency was reminded by Minister of Information Ben Amathila that the agency was funded by the government, and should therefore be sensitive to reportage about the government.

On August 7, President Nujoma ordered a summons for defamation to be served on Windhoek Observer editor Smith, as well as the paper's publisher and printing company. The charges arose from articles and editorials published in the newspaper that, according to the president, "injured his good name and reputation and his feelings and dignity."

Attacks on the Press in Namibia in 1998

10/7/98Fred Simasiku, New EraHarassed
8/7/98Hannes Smith, Windhoek ObserverLegal Action
8/7/98Ester Smith, Windhoek ObserverLegal Action
2/9/98Hannes Smith, Windhoek ObserverImprisoned, Legal Action
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