New York, — Dawit Kebede, managing editor of Awramba Times, one of Ethiopia’s two remaining independent Amharic-language newspapers offering critical analysis of local politics, announced today that he was forced to leave the country after he received a tip last week about alleged government plans to re-imprison him. Kebede also said that the paper was unlikely to continue publishing.
Kebede, whom CPJ honored a year ago for perseverance in pursuing independent journalism in Ethiopia despite ongoing government intimidation, told CPJ from Washington, D.C., that official sources warned him on Thursday of preparations by the Ministry of Justice and Government Communication Affairs to revoke the conditional pardon that authorities offered in 2007 to him and other imprisoned journalists rounded up in a brutal November 2005 crackdown.
“Dawit Kebede has endured all of the Ethiopian government’s tactics to silence independent voices, from official intimidation and state-sponsored smear campaigns to the jailing of his staff. The silencing of Awramba Times leaves the country with only one remaining independent critical newspaper,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “The Ethiopian government’s persecution of those seeking to report the news and raise critical questions about issues of public interest has driven the largest number of journalists in the world into exile.”
Kebede said the tip-off followed an October 19 editorial in the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front-controlled state daily Addis Zemen, which accused him of links with “terrorist groups,” called on the government to revoke his pardon, and urged security forces to “to take action” against him. Kebede sued Addis Zemen earlier this year for defamation over a series of similar articles, but a judge dismissed the lawsuit in July, according to CPJ research. Kebede said he has also been the target of attacks by pro-government media personality Mimi Sebhatu on her station, Zami FM Radio.
In interviews with Bloomberg today, both federal prosecutor Birhanu Wendimagegn and Ministry of Justice spokesman Desalegn Teresa denied allegations that they were planning to arrest Kebede.
In 2007, Kebede pleaded guilty to trumped-up charges of “inciting and conspiring to commit outrages to the constitutional order” over an editorial criticizing extrajudicial killings of unarmed protesters by security forces in 2005. He was sentenced to four years in prison but was released on conditional pardon. With his former newspaper Hadar banned, he launched Awramba Times in March 2008, after the government initially denied him a license.
In May, the government-controlled media regulatory agency Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority accused Awramba Times of “inciting the public to destruction” over what it called “negative reporting” of ongoing inflation and the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, according to news reports. In June, authorities imprisoned Awramba Times Deputy Editor Woubshet Taye on vague terrorism charges.