Ethiopia silences an independent voice

By Geoffrey York

Addis Ababa — From Monday’s Globe and Mail

Tamerat Negera was the editor-in-chief of Addis Neger, a weekly newspaper in Addis Ababa that has ceased publication after intimidation and harassment by the Ethiopian government. Mr. Negera, pictured here at Addis Neger’s former offices, has since fled Ethiopia. With its staff forced into exile, influential newspaper succumbs to government crackdown and prints final edition.

It was one of the few remaining independent voices in Ethiopia. But one by one, the editors of Addis Neger have quietly slipped out of the country, fleeing from the imprisonment that they expected at any moment.

The warnings were increasingly ominous. Criminal charges were being prepared. Staff were threatened. When Editor-in-chief Tamerat Negera was publicly denounced as a “nihilist” and “anti-establishment,” he knew exactly what it meant. “It’s time to pack,” he said grimly.

In a final act of subterfuge, he hired a new accountant and three new writers, hoping to give the impression that his weekly newspaper was staying open. But he was already planning his escape to the United States.

Late last week, when all six of its founding editors were safely outside of the country, they announced that their newspaper had ceased to exist. It was the culmination of “months of persecution and harassment,” they said in a final statement.

The shutdown is just the latest example of the “climate of fear” in Ethiopia, according to Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog group based in Paris.

With an election due within the next five months, there are mounting concerns that the government is planning a repeat of the crackdown that imprisoned thousands of people after the disputed 2005 election. Military and police officers killed about 200 opposition protesters after that election, and many journalists and politicians were jailed for the next two years. Websites that criticized the government were blocked, and even text messaging on cellphones was restricted.

Mr. Negera had been an opposition candidate in the 2005 election, but the other co-founders of his weekly newspaper were independent journalists who had been victims of the crackdown in the last election. They named their newspaper Addis Neger (which means “New Thing”), then built it to a circulation of 30,000 – a relatively large number for an independent weekly in Ethiopia. But as the election approaches, they say the Ethiopian media are censoring themselves more heavily.

“The situation for journalists is very dark,” Mr. Negera said. “This election is going to be more controlled.”

Read the full Article at: The Globe and Mail



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