In Ethiopia, an independent voice is silenced. አዲስ ነገር ጋዜጣ..

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In Ethiopia, an independent voice is silenced. አዲስ ነገር ጋዜጣ..

Unread post by ኦሽንoc » 07 Dec 2009 00:07

In Ethiopia, an independent voice is silenced
With its staff forced into exile, influential newspaper succumbs to government crackdown and prints final edition.

Tamerat Negera was the editor-in-chief of Addis Neger, a weekly newspaper in Addis Ababa that has ceased publication after intimidation and harassment by the Ethiopian government. Mr. Negera, pictured here at Addis Neger's former offices, has since fled Ethiopia.

It was one of the few remaining independent voices in Ethiopia. But one by one, the editors of Addis Neger have quietly slipped out of the country, fleeing from the imprisonment that they expected at any moment.

The warnings were increasingly ominous. Criminal charges were being prepared. Staff were threatened. When editor-in-chief Tamerat Negera was publicly denounced as a “nihilist” and “anti-establishment,” he knew exactly what it meant. “It's time to pack,” he said grimly.
addis neger አዲስ ነገር.jpg
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In a final act of subterfuge, he hired a new accountant and three new writers, hoping to give the impression that his weekly newspaper was staying open. But he was already planning his escape to the United States.

Late last week, when all six of its founding editors were safely outside of the country, they announced that their newspaper had ceased to exist. It was the culmination of “months of persecution and harassment,” they said in a final statement.

The shutdown is just the latest example of the “climate of fear” in Ethiopia, according to Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog group based in Paris.

With an election due within the next five months, there are mounting concerns that the government is planning a repeat of the crackdown that imprisoned thousands of people after the disputed 2005 election. Military and police officers killed about 200 opposition protesters after that election, and many journalists and politicians were jailed for the next two years. Websites that criticized the government were blocked, and even text messaging on cellphones was restricted.

Mr. Negera had been an opposition candidate in the 2005 election, but the other co-founders of his weekly newspaper were independent journalists who had been victims of the crackdown in the last election. They named their newspaper Addis Neger (which means “New Thing”), then built it to a circulation of 30,000 – a relatively large number for an independent weekly in Ethiopia. But as the election approaches, they say the Ethiopian media are censoring themselves more heavily.

“The situation for journalists is very dark,” Mr. Negera said. “This election is going to be more controlled.”

Some Ethiopian journalists say that the government is planning to prosecute the independent media under a new anti-terrorism law, which authorizes a 20-year jail sentence on anyone who is deemed to be “supporting” terrorism.

At the same time, a growing number of Ethiopian journalists and artists are being imprisoned on trivial or trumped-up charges, human rights groups say.

One newspaper editor was convicted of criminal charges after she made a factual error in reporting the name of a judge in a court case. She was held in prison, then fined and released.

Last week, two journalists at Addis Neger were charged with “defaming” the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after they reported on internal politics in the church.

Another journalist was imprisoned this year in connection with a five-year-old article that documented human-rights violations against the Oromo people, one of Ethiopia's ethnic groups. Another was imprisoned for years-old tax charges, although he was later acquitted.

In one of the most famous cases, Ethiopian pop singer Teddy Afro – sometimes known as the Bob Marley of Ethiopia – was imprisoned for 16 months for a traffic accident that killed a man, although the singer denied being in the car. His songs had become a rallying cry for many political dissidents.

“Ethiopia is one of the world's worst backsliders on press freedom, a steady decline made worse by recent draconian anti-terror legislation,” said a statement by the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent group based in New York.

Source:The Globe and Mail

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Re: In Ethiopia, an independent voice is silenced. አዲስ ነገር ጋ

Unread post by ኦሽንoc » 07 Dec 2009 00:15

Related News From VOA

Ethiopian Newspaper Shuts Down, Editors Flee

Press-freedom groups are expressing concern about the state of Ethiopia's independent media as the country prepares for national elections

One of Ethiopia's leading weekly newspapers has shut down and its senior staff left the country in the face of what they say is a government campaign of intimidation and black propaganda. Press-freedom groups are expressing concern about the state of Ethiopia's independent media as the country prepares for national elections.

As campaigning begins to heat up for next May's parliamentary vote, Ethiopia is without one of its few independent political voices. Addis Neger, a weekly Amharic-language newspaper known for its lively discussion of political issues, printed its final edition Saturday.

In a news release, the paper's editors blamed their decision to close on what they called 'another crackdown on free speech and freedom of the press in Ethiopia'. Managing Editor Mesfin Negash was quoted as saying, 'the government ... habit of aggressively stepping into the [area of controlling] public opinion ... had made [their] task impossible'.

The news release carried a Washington dateline, and noted three of the paper's top editors had left the country after learning the government was preparing criminal charges against them based on a new anti-terrorism law.

Attempts by VOA to reach Ethiopian government spokesmen Saturday and Sunday were unsuccessful. A news release issued by the media freedom group Reporters Without Borders quoted government communications minister Bereket Simon as saying the government had no intention of targeting the newspaper.

But a government paper recently carried a number of opinion columns containing scathing criticisms of Addis Neger.

In a telephone interview from the United States, Addis Neger's Editor-in-Chief Tamerat Negera told VOA his staff became frightened when the government paper publicly accused them of violating Ethiopia's tough anti-terrorism law.

"The government official daily newspaper, Addis Zemen was publishing repeated articles incriminating us with and associating us as terrorists with an intention to destroy Ethiopia, the entire nation, and as a threat to the stability and democracy of the country," said Tamerat Negera.

Tamerat says he and his colleagues had been warned they were facing long jail terms.

"We had reliable information from government sources that the government was intending to prosecute the founders and the editors of our newspaper with utmost possible highest charge which could go as far as 20 years in jail, and we discussed this and decided this is unbearable," he said.

Several human-rights and press freedom groups have expressed concern about the anti-terrorism law and other recently approved statutes they say could restrict freedom of expression.

Reporters Without Borders Saturday condemned what it calls 'a climate of fear' prevailing in Ethiopia. The group's statement says the specter of the media and opposition crackdown that followed the disputed 2005 election is resurfacing before next May's vote.

Hundreds of demonstrators, political leaders, journalists and human-rights activists were arrested in connection with the violent protests that erupted following the 2005 election, in which the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front retained power.

Thirteen newspapers were closed down in the aftermath of the 2005 protests. None reopened.

Addis Neger began publishing in September, 2007. Its circulation of 30,000 made it one of Ethiopia's most widely read non-government newspapers.

Source: VOA

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