VIENNA, Jan 14, 2014 (IPI) – Ethiopia’s use of sweeping anti-terrorism law to imprison journalists and other legislative restrictions are hindering the development of free and independent media in Africa’s second largest country, according to a report published today by the International Press Institute (IPI).
Dozens of journalists 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. The report, “Press Freedom
in Ethiopia”, is based on a mission to the country carried out in
November by IPI and the World Association of Newspapers and News
“Despite a strong constitutional basis for press freedom and freedom
of information, the Ethiopian government has systematically used the
anti-terrorism law to prosecute and frighten journalists, which has put a
straight-jacket on the media,” IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel
McKenzie said. “Our joint mission also found a disturbing pattern of
using other measures to control the press and restrict independent
journalism, including restrictions on foreign media ownership and the
absence of an independent public broadcaster.”
The report urges the Ethiopian government to free journalists
convicted under the sedition provisions of the 2009 measure. These
journalists include Solomon Kebede, Wubset Taye, Reyot Alemu, Eskinder
Nega and Yusuf Getachew. Mission delegates were barred access to the
journalists, who are being held at Kaliti Prison near the capital Addis
The report urges the 547-member lower house of parliament to revamp
the anti-terror law to ensure that it does not trample on 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.
In addition, the report:
- Recommends that Ethiopian lawmakers review laws that bar foreign
investment in media, measures that inhibit the development of an
economically viable and diversified market.
- Urges the courts to ensure that rulings restrict press freedom only
in cases of intentional incitement or clear participation in acts of
terrorism, and that judges act independently to protect the public’s
right to be informed about political dissent and acts of terrorism.
- Urges Ethiopia’s journalists and media owners to step up
cooperation to improve professionalism and independence, and to form a
unified front to defend press freedom.
The joint IPI/WAN-IFRA mission was carried from Nov. 3 to 6, just
ahead of the African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF) in Addis Ababa. The
organisations’ representatives met with more than 30 editors,
journalists, lawyers, politicians and bloggers, as well as associates of
the imprisoned journalists. The delegation also held meetings with the
ambassadors of Austria and the United States, a senior African Union
official, an Ethiopian lawmaker and government spokesman Redwan Hussien.
The organisations urged Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to free
the imprisoned journalists, some of whom are suffering from
deteriorating health. In a joint statement issued immediately following the mission,
IPI and WAN-IFRA also expressed their commitment to helping improve the
professionalism, quality and independence of journalism in Ethiopia.
While the report highlights a long history of press freedom
violations in Ethiopia, including a crackdown on journalists and
opposition politicians following the country’s 2005 national elections,
it notes that the 2009 anti-terrorism law has given the government
“The 2009 anti-terrorism law gave new powers to the government to
arrest those deemed seditious, including journalists who step beyond the
bounds of politically acceptable reporting or commentary,” the report
says. “Armed with statutory authority, the government has not shied from
using the laws to bludgeon opposition figures and journalists. Dozens
of journalists have been imprisoned or accused of sedition or fomenting
unrest, forcing many to flee the country.”
The report notes other forms of pressure by the government.
Independent journalists recalled being the target of smear campaigns by
state-run media, while editors recounted that managers of the
government-run printing press refused to print editions of newspapers
containing controversial articles.
The report does note positive developments, such as the growth in
advertising and readership for some of the country’s leading independent
newspapers. Journalists and newspaper publishers also expressed a
desire to improve professionalism, quality and solidarity; although they
added that government pressure and laws continue to create hurdles to
self-regulation and cooperation.
“We came away from Ethiopia recognising the tremendous potential for a
highly competitive, professional and successful media market in
Ethiopia,” Bethel McKenzie said. “But to make this happen, the Ethiopian
government must remove the roadblocks, starting with the release of
imprisoned journalists and then conduct a thorough review of the laws to
ensure that reporting on legitimate criticism or dissent is not grounds
Source: International Press Institute