By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – An Ethiopian journalist has been jailed for one year for writing a newspaper article disagreeing with the country’s prime minister, a U.S.-based press freedom watchdog said on Tuesday.
The Horn of Africa country holds national elections in May and international rights groups say the government is cracking down on dissent ahead of the poll. The government denies that.
Ezedin Mohamed wrote a column in Al-Quds, a newspaper marketed at Ethiopia’s Muslims, questioning Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s characterisaton of the country in an interview as “Orthodox Christian Ethiopia”.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says that is why he was jailed. The group did not say what the specific charge against the journalist was.
Ethiopian government officials were not immediately available to comment.
“The jailing of Ezedin Mohamed is another example of Ethiopia’s intolerance of independent and critical voices,” CPJ’s Tom Rhodes said in a statement.
“It is high time for Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to demonstrate his commitment to democratic values by ending the practice of imprisoning journalists.”
Ethiopia’s government usually says it is secular. The country’s population is 43.5 percent Orthodox Christian and 33.9 percent Muslim, according to Ethiopia’s last census.
There has been little trouble between Christians and Muslims in the country of about 80 million people and inter-marriage is not uncommon, locals say.
JOURNALISTS SAY HARASSED
Local journalists, who did not want to be named, told Reuters they are experiencing more harassment from officials as the elections approach.
One of Ethiopia’s most popular newspapers — political weekly Addis Neger — closed in December and six of its senior editors fled the country saying they were regularly harassed and feared they were about to be jailed.
The government said the journalists had no reason to close the newspaper.
An Ethiopia-based American journalist working for Bloomberg news agency was detained for two days the same month after interviewing opposition members.
The May elections will be the first since a disputed 2005 poll that ended in bloodshed when about 200 opposition protesters were killed on the streets by police and soldiers. Seven policemen were also killed.
Meles said they were marching on state buildings to topple him.
Analysts expect the Meles government to win the elections. The opposition say that is because they are harassed and jailed. The government says the opposition are trying to discredit the poll because they have no chance of winning.
Source: Journalist jailed for criticising Ethiopian PM: Reuters
Related : Ethiopia jails editor whose paper challenged Zenawi – CPJ