Journalists, bloggers weigh in on media freedom in Ethiopia

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The new Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is said to have increased transparency in governance since his assumption into office. His critics cite his outreach to opposition political parties, journalists and human rights activists as a good move.

Thousands of prisoners have been released since January. Prominent Ethiopian journalist and human rights activist, Eskinder Nega has not seen his wife and son, both settled in the United States, for 5 years. In total, he’s spent nearly 9 years behind bars.

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“They wanted to break my spirit, they want to break the spirit of political prisoners. They want you to say, I finally give up, it’s too much for me, I’ve suffered enough. In this story, I’m happy to say that they didn’t break my spirit and that’s why I’m talking to you”, Nega said.

They want you to say, I finally give up, it’s too much for me, I’ve suffered enough. In this story, I’m happy to say that they didn’t break my spirit and that’s why I’m talking to you.

Eskinder is one of the founders of one of the first opposition newspapers. In 2011, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison on anti-terrorist law charges.

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‘‘This is my work published on the internet after I was forbidden to publish on paper. We were forbidden to publish in newspapers after our release from prison in 2008”, he added.

His colleagues agree. Manaye studied journalism at the Addis Ababa University and worked in the state press for a year. He tells our correspondent, Nathalie Tissot that news covered are sometimes ‘buried’.

“I have found it difficult to work as a free journalist in a government media. I was sent to cover public meetings and press conferences of opposition parties. I covered them when I came back to the office and returned my article, I didn’t find it in the next day’s edition’‘, Belay Manaye said.

Today, he follows the trials of activists in the Federal High Court of Justice. Like Eskinder, this human rights activist welcomes the new Prime Minister. He reckons, there have been changes including restoration of internet services to his region, but says much more needs to be done.

He added “they must lift the state of emergency immediately, without any prerequisites. For me, this state of emergency is simply an indication of the government’s will to keep us in fear’‘.

Over one thousand people were detained under Ethiopia’s mid-February state of emergency. Abel Wa bella is a Zone 9 blogger. Several members of this blogging group were also arrested in 2014 under the anti-terrorism law. Wa bella was released a year and a half later. Since then, all charges against him have been dropped. He then decided to set up his own independent news website, ‘Gobena street’.

“The new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has promised us many reforms to open political space and create a favourable environment for the media. So we need to test this. We do not have to sit back and wait for information from government media”, Wa bella said.

Expectations are high for the new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who has been in office for more than a month now.

Human rights activists, journalists and bloggers see the recent political changes as a sign of hope.

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