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Global writers’ group PEN International is vigorously stepping up its campaign against the use of criminal defamation and "insult" laws in Africa. The campaign, which is a few years old, is being waged by PEN SA, PEN International and PEN centres in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zambia. Making defamation a crime introduces disproportionate penalties for expressing critical opinion or for publishing allegations or facts about the abuse of power or malfeasance among public officials. It often severely restricts a writer’s ability to expose malpractice for fear of a criminal charge, a prison sentence and a long-term criminal record. This has the effect of criminalising the routine work of journalists. Up to now the PEN campaign, which has the support of the UN Democracy Fund, has involved research by PEN on the stifling effects of the use of these laws in their countries. A case study on the impact in Ghana of the repeal of criminal defamation laws in 2001 has also been examined. The...

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