Journalists condemn media crackdown in Ethiopia

By DAVID MAYEN

A group of sixteen media professionals have signed a petition condemning Ethiopian government for mistreating media practitioners, which they attribute to the shrinking press freedom .

In a statement seen by The EastAfrican on Monday, the group said shrinking media space had forced some journalists to quit while others fled to exile. 

“We stand today in solidarity with our colleagues across the country. For decades, Ethiopia had carved a reputation for itself as one of the world’s top jailors of journalists due to institutional and systemic crackdowns on critical voices, and intolerance to dissent.

“Ethiopia’s infamous anti-terror proclamation, passed into law in 2009, paved the way for journalists to be charged with treason, terrorism, and be sentenced to life in prison. This led to scores of Ethiopian journalists being arrested or forced into exile and served as a pretext to shut down broadcast and print outlets which didn’t cater to pro-government narratives,” said the group in a statement.

The group noted that in 2018, there was collective optimism when incarcerated journalists were freed, with those in exile invited back home. Foreign media outlets also set up shop in Ethiopia for the first time.

“However, the country has since backpedalled considerably on its pledges to honour press freedoms. Detentions of journalists have once again become the norm. News outlets have been forced to shut down and the local independent press has been all but scuppered.

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“Over the course of 2021, two journalists, Dawit Kebede and Sisay Fida, were killed and over forty journalists and media staffers were detained, resulting in Ethiopia rejoining the ranks of Africa’s top jailors of journalists” the group added.

The group said the journalists were disappointed and saddened by the setbacks and the reversals of advances made just a few years ago, which had uplifted Ethiopian media professionals and had many of them aspiring to contribute in their own capacity to the widening of our country’s independent press sphere.

“With the distressing news that three media workers, Amir Aman Kiyaro, Tamerat Negera, and Thomas Engida are set to be put on trial emerging, and with the dearth of voices in Ethiopian society speaking in defence of the country’s journalists.

“We [some] Ethiopian journalists have come together in unison and declare that we recognise the suffering and uncertainty endured by fellow journalists, media staffers, and their families in Ethiopia during this critical time. We also honour their strength and resilience unreservedly,” said the journalists.

The journalists welcomed the release of their colleagues from custody in recent weeks, and reiterated calls for the immediate release of all remaining imprisoned journalists and media staffers detained across Ethiopia.

“We echo the message of press freedom advocates both in Ethiopia and around the world by calling for the upholding of laws securing for Ethiopians, their hard-fought press freedom rights.

“We would like to express our gratitude towards the organisations who have remained unwavering in their commitment to imprisoned and persecuted Ethiopian journalists, including the likes of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF)” the group concluded.

In November last year, the Ethiopian government issued an order banning media from covering military operations as war continued to ravage the popular and largest nation in the Horn of Africa.

Abiy Ahmed’s administration asked media practitioners to desist from reporting military operations in his country.

The general ban came a week after the Ethiopian Media Authority issued a warning to some international media houses regarding their coverage on the ongoing conflict. The warning was issued to BBC World News, CNN, Reuters and the Associated Press, with the government threatening it will revoke their licenses for reporting fake news, among others.

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