Ethiopia’s use of a sweeping anti-terrorism laws to imprison critical journalists is hindering the development of free and independent media in the Africa’s second largest country, according to the report on World Press Freedom Review (2012-2013) recently published by the International Press Institute (IPI).
Dozens of journalists, independent bloggers and political activists have been arrested or sentenced under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009, including five journalists who are serving prison sentences and who at times have been denied access to visitors and legal counsel. Many others have been forced to flee the country. Imprisoned journalists include Solomon Kebede, Wubset Taye, Reyot Alemu, Eskinder Nega and Yusuf Getachew. The mission delegates from IPI were however barred access to the journalists, who are being held at Kaliti Prison near the capital Addis Ababa.
Despite a strong constitutional basis for press freedom and freedom of information, the Ethiopian government has systematically violated these protections consequently putting a straight-jacket on the media. In April 2014, the government launched a crackdown on journalist and bloggers resulting in arrest of three journalists and six bloggers, all who are still in detention without any clear charge being level against them. Their next court appearances are set for June 1st and 14th.
The government employs several measures to control the press and restrict independent journalism, including restrictions on foreign media ownership and the absence of an independent public broadcaster. Moreover, independent journalists are the target of smear campaigns by state-run media, while managers of the government-run printing press refused to print editions of newspapers containing critical articles.
In order to create a robust and independent media in Ethiopia:
- The government should free all the journalists convicted under the sedition provisions of the 2009 proclamation, some of whom are suffering from deteriorating health.
- Taking into consideration all recommendations made in this year UPR session for Ethiopia, lawmakers should revamp the anti-terror proclamation to ensure comports with the rights of freedom of speech and assembly provided under Article 29 of the Ethiopian Constitution and further guaranteed under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the U.N. Human Rights Covenant, which Ethiopia has ratified.
- There is need to review laws that bar foreign investment in media, measures that inhibit the development of an economically viable and diversified market (the courts should ensure that directives restrict press freedom only in cases of intentional incitement or clear participation in acts of terrorism).
- Courts should act independently to protect the public’s right to be informed about political dissent and acts of terrorism.