News / Africa

Uneven Coverage of Suppressed Ethiopian Journalists

Marthe van der Wolf

This month, Ethiopian officials shut down five magazines -- the latest in a series of shutdowns -- but the move got little attention from outside the country.  The East African country is well known for suppressing the media, but some cases seem to get celebrity status while others are ignored. 
 
Twelve Ethiopian journalists and publishers left the country in August after the magazines they worked for were forced by the government to shut down.  International media gave little attention to the self-chosen exile of these media practitioners.
 
In contrast, the cases of Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu and more recently the Zone9 bloggers have been covered by outlets such as al-Jazeera and the BBC, as well as VOA.
 
Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, says it can be partly explained why some cases get more attention.
 
“In the case of the Zone9 bloggers and Eskinder, they were quite well known in the diaspora, the Ethiopian diaspora, and had a lot of international contacts and backers. While other cases unfortunately are not so well known. I think of Solomon Kebede for example who is still waiting for trial," he said.
 
Forty-one human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and CPJ released a joint statement calling for the release of the Zone9 bloggers and journalists, who are charged with terrorism.
 
Amaha Mekonnen, lawyer for the Zone9 bloggers and journalists, said there was a small chance the international attention would have an impact.

"As we have the experience, there may be a chance to settle the matter out of court, in which case, this information, all deliberations and analysis the case of this bloggers and journalist may be used to speed up and finally get a successful results," said Mekonnen.
 
Both Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu have been detained under Ethiopia's controversial Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.  Human rights group said the 2009 law was overly vague and allowed authorities to arrest anyone who criticized or opposed the government.

Serkalem Fasil accepts the 2012 PEN American's Serkalem Fasil accepts the 2012 PEN American's "Freedom to Write Award" for her husband Eskinder Nega, imprisoned Ethiopian writer, in New York, May 1, 2012.
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Serkalem Fasil accepts the 2012 PEN American's
Serkalem Fasil accepts the 2012 PEN American's "Freedom to Write Award" for her husband Eskinder Nega, imprisoned Ethiopian writer, in New York, May 1, 2012.

Eskinder won the 2012 PEN American's Freedom to Write Award while serving an 18-year prison sentence and Reeyot won the UNESCO World Press Freedom Award in 2013 while serving an ongoing five-year prison term.
 
Reeyot is not allowed to see anyone else besides her parents, for 20 minutes a day.

Her father Alemu Gobebo said the attention was good for the morale of his imprisoned daughter:

“The international media is also encouraging the family of Reeyot, and Reeyot herself.  The international media coverage disclosing her strength on freedom of speech or freedom of press, and by that way she was awarded, I think, international prizes. In that case we are very delighted,” he said.
 
There was always a worry when giving exposure to a case, said Rhodes of CPJ.  But he also believed that it was crucial to inform people about what was going on.

“I think it both has a positive and a negative affect," he said. "Positive in the sense that we let the international community know what’s going on and we’re letting the Ethiopian press know what’s going on.  But it’s also negative in the sense that some authorities simply do not like criticism whether its local or international.  And may react badly to it.”
 
Ethiopia ranks 143 out of 180 countries on the most recent World Press Freedom index.  A 2014 Human Rights Watch report says Ethiopia is one of the three top countries in the world in terms of the number of exiled journalists.
 
The trial of the Zone 9 bloggers and journalists will resume October 15.

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Comments
     
by: Goodheart from: Canada
August 31, 2014 2:13 PM
Ethiopia belongs to more than 50 Ethnic groups and has a population of 90 million. Most Ethiopians know that there are no genuine and mature opposition political groups in Ethiopia who truly stand for all Ethiopians and have a broader view of democracy. Some journalists, professors, power-hungry politicians want EPRDF to go away simply because they hate EPRDF. They don't care if Ethiopia turns up side down due to absence of strong government. This is childish. Matured, truly nationalistic, and honest Ethiopians are really thankful for having a strong government lead by EPRDF. We thank God Ethiopia will transition to full democracy through time.

by: Gehion from: Addis Abeba
August 29, 2014 2:25 PM
I sometimes wonder what exactly the western countries are looking to achieve by giving a credence to these so called Ethiopian reporters, (scumbags) that are being jailed because of their misguided and an ethical, fetiches, precarious lies and unsubstantiated stories about a person of government entity and or ethnically provocative stories which did not occur in any form or shape. I believe they do these sort of stuff so they can get recognition from international medias and therefore can be granted some western country visa for immigration purposes.
I see, listen and read to real reporters stories and their everyday outstanding reporting from around the world be it in wars, weather storms, good and bad situations risking their lives. Not these shameless human garbages who are trying to capitalize on the names of true and genuine reporters. I am sorry I forgot the American reporter who got beheaded by the savages of the Islamic state fighters in Syria or Iraq, these are our heroic world class reporters, who are scarifying their lives for the good of the world.
Ethiopia is not a full blown democracy yet, however I believe it is on the verge and therefore the so cold western democracies seems to be working hard to miscarriage the Ethiopian young and emerging democracy.

by: Doug Schwab from: New York
August 29, 2014 11:39 AM
If given half a chance the Ethiopian people could elect good leaders, as the Education level is getting very good. More is needed and the outlieing areas require better schools. The people are hard working and will sacrifice every thing for there children. The last guy did not do much in order to help the other tribes, they need to look beyound them selves.

by: Peace from: Kenya
August 29, 2014 6:11 AM
Don't mess with ethiopian government , they are the most tactical & wise leaders in africa. The western doesn't give a shit about africa, they're just tring to mess thing up by snitching. Go Ethiopia.
In Response

by: Truth Teller from: Ghana
August 29, 2014 12:32 PM
"Ethiopian government are... wise leaders in Africa"?!?! ... Really?! ... what kind of drug are you taking?? ... They ruled the country for over 20 yrs and you still are the second poorest country and repressive regime in the world!! ... so, what makes you wise?! ... I don't think the comment you've posted make sense to yourself. Pls re-read the comment you've posted - when you're off the drug you took when you post this comment.

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