Ato Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Re: Ethiopia: Stop crack down on press
Dear Ato Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe,
I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com.
I came to know from Al Jazeera English that an Ethiopian court has jailed a journalist for 18 years for “terrorism” and 23 other reporters and activists for between eight years and life, after a trial condemned by rights groups.
Journalist Eskinder Nga was jailed for 18 years, while opposition member Andualem Arage got a life sentence as both men were found guilty of “participation in a terrorist organisation” and “planning…(a) terrorist act”, Judge Hussein Yimer said on Friday.
Ethiopia, a major recipient of Western aid, has said it is fighting separatist rebel movements and armed groups backed by its arch-foe Eritrea.
But rights groups say the Horn of Africa country, sandwiched between volatile Somalia and Sudan, is using broad anti-terrorism legislation to crack down on dissent and media freedoms.
I also came to know from Committee to Protect Journalists that In recent months, Ethiopian Muslims have begun staging protests on Fridays to oppose government policies they say are interfering with their religious affairs, according to news reports. These protests are a highly sensitive issue for the government, which fears a hardline Islamist influence within the predominantly Christian country, news reports said. Local journalists believe the recent harassment of Muslim journalists and newspapers are part of an attempt by Ethiopian authorities to quell coverage of the ongoing protests in the capital.
At least eight police officers raided the home of Yusuf Getachew, editor of YeMuslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs), in the evening of July 20 in the capital, Addis Ababa, and took the journalist to the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center, according to local journalists. The police also confiscated four of Yusuf’s mobile phones, his wife’s digital camera, books, and 6,000 birr (US$334), the same sources said.
Yusuf was charged the next day with treason and incitement to violence, but the state prosecutor did not cite any YeMuslimoch Guday articles as evidence, local journalists told CPJ. Yusuf has not been granted family visits, and his defense lawyer saw him for the first time on Wednesday, the journalists said.
Two other YeMuslimoch Guday journalists, Senior Editor Akemel Negash and Copy Editor Isaac Eshetu, have gone into hiding, local journalists told CPJ. The police have had the homes of both journalists under surveillance since late July, and stopped only recently, local journalists said. YeMuslimoch Guday, which actively covered the Muslim protests in the capital, has not been published since Yusuf’s arrest, the same sources said.
On July 20, police also raided the offices of the privately owned Horizon printing press in Addis Ababa and confiscated copies of Selefiah and Sewtul Islam, two Muslim weeklies, according to news reports. Authorities detained Horizon’s owner overnight, and neither Selefiah nor Sewtul Islam has been published since, according to reports and local journalists. Local journalists told CPJ that the government had ordered the printer to stop publishing the newspapers.
Ethiopian government officials did not immediately return CPJ’s calls for comment.
“Ethiopia has reached a high level of harassment of the press by attempting to censor coverage of the protests,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “This harassment of journalists and news outlets must stop, and Yusuf Getachew should be released immediately.”
Also in late July, authorities blocked 30,000 copies of the critical weekly Feteh, which contained front-page coverage of the Muslim protests and the health of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, according to CPJ research. The weekly’s printer, the state-run Barhanena Selam, has suspended all further publications of Feteh until further notice, local journalists told CPJ.
I urge you that Ethiopian authorities must release a journalist who has been detained for almost three weeks, and allow three Muslim news outlets to resume publishing immediately.
AUTHOR: William Nicholas Gomes
E-MAIL: williamgomes.org [at] gmail.com