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Namibia Government Comes Under Fire for Shutting Down Radio Program

President Hifikepunye Pohamba's government has come under increasing criticism after the state broadcasting company shut down a popular phone-in radio program, saying callers deluged it with hate speech and cultural insensitivity. Opponents condemned the Namibia government, saying the move is an infringement on freedom of speech. They accused the ruling party of silencing opponents ahead of this year's general elections. They also accused the government of flouting the constitution, saying freedom of speech is enshrined in the Namibia constitution. But the government maintains that hate speech, xenophobia, and tribalism will not be tolerated, adding that if not curbed they would undermine the country's peace and stability. Executive director Phil ya Nangoloh of the Namibia National Society for Human Rights tells reporter Peter Clottey that the radio program's cancelation is a way for the government to tighten its grip on media ahead of the elections.

"It is part of a move by a small group of people within the ruling SWAPO (South West African People's Organization) party to silence criticism ahead of the presidential or the general elections taking place towards the end of this year. It is simply like that and there is no other way to explain it," Nangoloh said.

He said although the government has the right to protect Namibian citizens from vitriolic attacks, it did not act in good faith, claims Nangoloh, since there were no such attacks from members of the opposition on the radio program.

"There was no such thing whatsoever. We saw this coming when they first started with the summary dismissal of the director general of the NBC (Namibia Broadcasting Cooperation). We are the chairman of the board of directors. And they started purging any other persons from the ruling party and the government who are deemed to be critical or who are deemed to be not members of the ruling party. So this is really a wider range move to silence criticism ahead of the election, and it is part of the electoral campaign," he said.

Nangoloh said partisans of the ruling SWAPO movement are behind the abuse language used on radio shows in the country contrary to what the government claims.

"In fact it is the other way round because supporters of the government are people from mainly the youth wing and the elders' wing of the ruling party. And these are the ones who have been engaging in hate speeches, xenophobia and similar impermissible forms of expression. But they (the government) are now turning it around," Nangoloh pointed out.

He said human rights organizations operating in the country support the move to rein in verbal attacks on ethnic groups on radio programs.

"We as a human rights organization will in principle support any move that is genuinely aimed at curbing hate speech. But this is not the case in this regard," he said.

Nangoloh denied claims that the government has the power to employ or determine who works for state institutions.

"Our constitution in terms of article 18 of the constitution. They (government) are required in state bodies and administrations such as ministers and others to act reasonably and fairly and comply with the requirement of the law, and if this was this article was being complied with, then we would have no problems with the action of the government," Nangoloh noted.

He described the government's termination of the radio program as a dictatorship.

"This is an undemocratic move, and McCarthy's move is in fact similar to steps that have been taken against critics in Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe and his cohorts," he said.