By Simon Allison
Ahead of elections this year, the Ethiopian government is cracking down hard on any kind of free press – shutting down publications, jailing journalists and harassing their families. This is not just Ethiopia’s problem, however. As the home of the African Union, and as an oft-punted role model for African development, Ethiopia’s censorship problem is Africa’s too.
It’s not easy being a journalist in Ethiopia. In fact, it is nearly impossible, according to a new Human Rights Watch report that documents the scale of the state’s censorship apparatus. As journalists ourselves, it makes for highly disturbing reading (and once again highlights why the South African media fraternity’s fight against the proposed secrecy bill is so important – the distance between that and the Ethiopian situation is not so far as one might think).
“Ethiopia’s government has systematically assaulted the country’s independent voices, treating the media as a threat rather than a valued source of information and analysis,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Ethiopia’s media should be playing a crucial role in the May elections, but instead many journalists fear that their next article could get them thrown in jail.”
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