Ethiopian Government’s Witchhunt Against Privately-Owned Media

 

Reporter without borderAt least six publications have had to close in recent months and around 30 journalists have fled

abroad since the start of the year as a result of the biggest crackdown on the privately-owned press
since 2005, one reflecting a government desire to make a clean sweep of independent media before
parliamentary elections next May, local analysts say.

In the latest development, Reporters Without Borders learned on 1 November that magazine editor
Temesgen Desalegn has been transferred to a prison in the town of Ziway, about 200 km away
from Addis Ababa to serve the three-year jail sentence of his 13 October condemnation.

Desalegn was convicted of publishing reports about “politicians and journalists linked to terrorist
groups” in the now-closed newspaper Fitih, which he edited before becoming the editor of Fact, a
magazine closed in August. These charges were dropped after originally being brought against
Desalegn in connection with a defamation case in 2012, but were revived last year.

“We are extremely concerned about Temesgen Desalegn’s conviction and his transfer to a prison far
from his family, especially as he has chronic health problems,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of
the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

“This conviction is just the latest example of the witchhunt that the Ethiopian government has
decided to wage against the independent press. Invoking the spectre of terrorism in order to silence
critics has unfortunately become a systematic government practice.”

Desalegn’s trial and conviction have been preceded by many other acts of intimidation and
harassment that have created a state of extreme fear within the Ethiopian media.
The owners of three magazines – Endalkachew Tesfaye of Addis Guday, Gizaw Taye of Lomi and
Fatuma Nuriya of Fact – were convicted in absentia of “encouraging terrorism” on 7 October and
were given sentences ranging from three years and three months to three years and eleven
months in prison.

The source of the charges was the justice ministry, which has brought the same charges against
three other publications – Enqu, Jano and Afro-Times – whose fate is not yet known.
Even public media are not spared when they stray from the party line: in June, 18 journalists were
fired by the main state-owned broadcaster in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest region, because of their
political views.

In April, six bloggers with the Zone 9 collection and three journalists – one a freelancer and the
other two employed by privately-owned media – were arrested in the course of a single weekend
without any explanation being given.

It was only after they had been held without charge for three months that they learned that they
were to be prosecuted under the 2009 anti-terrorism law for allegedly “organizing themselves into
covert sub-groups to overthrow the government by contacting and receiving finance and training
from two designated terrorist groups” – a charge that carries a possible 15-year jail sentence.
Since then, all their requests to be released on bail have been denied.

“We call on the authorities to reverse these convictions of journalists and media owners on specious