The Ethiopian government is using sweeping anti-terror laws to crack down on journalists critical of the regime. In the last three months, six journalists have been imprisoned, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
They include two Swedish journalists – Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson – who were charged a fortnight ago with terrorism. The two men were arrested in early July after crossing from Puntland into Ethiopia‘s troubled Ogaden region.
In the last two weeks Ethiopian security forces detained two Ethiopian journalists, Eskinder Nega and Sileshi Hagos. Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal accused the journalists, of plotting “a series of terrorist acts that would likely wreak havoc.”
Two other Ethiopian journalists were detained over the summer and have been held on terror charges for writing articles criticising the government.
Wubishet Taye of the Arawamba Times and Reeyot Alaemu, a part-time columnist, are currently held in Maikelawi prison in Addis Ababa awaiting trial. They could face sentences of up to 20 years.
“In the past four months, authorities have used sweeping terrorism laws to detain six independent journalists in an attempt to wipe out the few critical voices left in the country,” said CPJ’s east Africa consultant, Tom Rhodes.
“If the authorities have credible evidence against any of these journalists, let them present it publicly. Otherwise, they must release them.”
Anti-Terrorism proclamation of 2009
In 2009, the Ethiopian government passed anti-terror legislation, with definitions of terrorist activity that are broad and ambiguous.
It permits a clampdown on political dissent, including political demonstrations and public criticisms of government policy that are deemed supportive of armed opposition activity.
It also deprives defendants of the right to be presumed innocent and of protection against the use of evidence obtained through torture.
Mohamed Keita, coordinator for the CPJ’s Africa programme, says: “Ethiopia is certainly one of the most restrictive nations in Africa in terms of press freedom. It has one of the most appalling press freedom records on the continent.”
International broadcasters harassed
The free press expanded under the Ethiopian government when the ruling party, the EPRDF, first came to power in 1991.
But in the aftermath of the 2005 elections, when the contested results caused civil unrest and the massacre of 193 civilians, there has been a relentless crackdown on the independent press.