Obituaries

Ethiopia Attacks Press : 2009 Report

Ahead of national elections scheduled for May 2010, the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) further curtailed the limited freedom of the country’s small number of independent newspapers. The government enacted harsh legislation that criminalized coverage of vaguely defined “terrorist” activities, and used administrative restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and imprisonments to induce self-censorship. In all, four reporters and editors were being held when CPJ conducted its annual census of imprisoned journalists on December 1.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi was expected to seek another five-year term in the 2010 vote, the first general election since the disputed 2005 vote, which was marred by a bloody crackdown on political dissent and Ethiopia’s once-vibrant Amharic-language press. With control of more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament, virtually all local council seats, and a weakened opposition, Zenawi’s administration tightened its control of the press as well.

In July, the EPRDF-controlled Ethiopian House of Peoples’ Representatives passed the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation despite concerns by opposition lawmakers and legal experts about its far-reaching provisions, according to local journalists. Some reporters who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity said they had been pressured by officials and government supporters to censor coverage that scrutinized the legislation, which added to an existing body of law that restricts the press and the activities of nongovernmental organizations.

A provision of the terrorism law punishes “whosoever writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates, shows, makes to be heard any promotional statements encouraging, supporting or advancing terrorist acts” with as much as 20 years in prison, according to CPJ research. The legislation conflated political opposition with terrorism. It contained broad definitions of a “terrorist organization,” including any organization the government bans under the law, and of “terrorist acts,” which include destruction of public property and “disruption of public services,” according to an analysis by Human Rights Watch.

The legislation was detrimental to media coverage of political opposition groups that the government had banned and labeled as terrorist. In August, a public prosecutor convicted in absentia exiled journalists Dereje Habtewold and Fasil Yenealem. They were found guilty of involvement in a coup plot by the “terror network” of exiled opposition leader Berhanu Nega, according to news reports. Habtewold and Yenealem were editors of the political newsletter of Nega’s Ginbot 7 movement, which is banned in Ethiopia.

The same week in August, the government invoked the specter of terrorism when it unsuccessfully attempted to force private Kenyan broadcaster Nation Television (NTV) to drop an exclusive report on separatist rebels of the Oromo Liberation Front in southern Ethiopia. In a letter to the broadcaster’s parent company, The Nation Media Group, Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya, Disasa Dirribsa, accused the station of speaking for “a terrorist group,” according to the Daily Nation. Nevertheless, the station dismissed the pressure and aired the four-part series, according to Linus Kaikai, NTV’s managing editor of broadcast news.

Full Report : Committee to Protect Journalists

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