By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
November 7, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) –Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn says he would always allow room for journalists to criticise his government.
- The new chair of the African Union, Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn (World Economic Forum www.weforum.org/Photo Matthew Jordaan email@example.com)
“Right groups have often accused the East Africa nation of using anti- terror legislation tools to stifle free speech and punish journalists critical to the regime.
The press freedom campaigner group, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Ethiopia as the second worst jailer of journalists in Africa, after its neighbor Eritrea.
During his recent visit to Ethiopia, US President Barack Obama called on leaders of the country to open additional space for journalists, the media or opposition voices saying allowing more political freedoms would strengthen the African nation.
Ethiopia is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Despite the country’s bad records on freedom of speech Desalegn told the BBC that he is not afraid of criticism from journalists.
“Free media is very essential for the democratic process and development” he said.
Desalegn said he is ready to embrace critical views from journalists further hinting some poor performance within his government.
“We are ready to be criticized by any journalists because we know we are not perfect” he said adding the diversity of the country meant that democracy and human rights were central to its survival and success.
“There is a young, dynamic population in this country, with all the social media information flow – so without democratic discourse it’s not possible to continue as a country – we believe we’re on the right track”
With regard to bloggers and reporters arrested last year, the premier defended his government arguing their profession had not prompted their arrests but because it has been proofed that they had links with outlawed opposition movements who try to destabilize the country.
“This has to be very clearly underlined because that shouldn’t be confused with the noble profession, journalism and the work that journalists do in this country”
The journalists and bloggers who are members of the independent collective Zone 9 group were charged under the broadly defined terror law.
However their charges had been dropped against all members who had been accused of attempting to incite public violence and cooperating with banned opposition groups to carryout terror attacks.
Five were freed in July ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit while the other four were acquitted of terrorism charges by a court last month.
The Zone 9 group is known on its grave critics against government policy.
Although Ethiopia has registered double digit economic growth for over a decade managing to pullmillions of people out of poverty it however remains under fire by right groups over its poor human right performance.
The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) which had been in power for over two decades has won a landslide victory during May general election.
The Polls which had been conducted for the first time since Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who ruled Ethiopia for more than 20 years died in 2012.
His successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, formed a new government last month after being re-elected as Prime minister.
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