Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Ethiopia
As of December 31, 1998

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Incarceration has long been Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's punishment of choice for journalists, so it was not surprising that Ethiopia once again led Africa in the number of journalists in prison at the end of the year -- or that Meles again earned a place among CPJ's 10 worst Enemies of the Press. Repeated crackdowns on the independent media throughout the year testified to a repressive environment that is expected to deteriorate even more as Ethiopia and Eritrea spar on the brink of a full-scale war.

Although Meles has argued that press freedom threatens democracy because the media could incite ethnic hatred, his treatment of the press reveals his own antidemocratic impulses. For example, on July 13, Shimelis Kemal, Berhanu Negash, and Teferi Mekonnen, editors of the independent newspaper Nishan, were arrested in Addis Ababa after the publication of an article warning against ethnic intolerance toward Eritreans. They were released the next day, but were arrested again on July 15 and remained in detention for more than three months after they issued a statement criticizing their initial arrest.

Numerous statutes severely restrict reporting and grant the state broad powers to silence journalists. Press Proclamation 34, issued in 1992, bans dissemination of information that the government deems dangerous to the society. Article 8 of the law leaves the definition of "secret information" open to broad interpretation and does not offer specific guidelines on what constitutes a "criminal offense against the safety of the state, the administration, or national defence." Zealous prosecutors and a compliant judiciary perpetuate a system that cycles journalists through the country's prisons on ad hoc charges or often no charges at all. Because the bail and fines imposed on journalists are prohibitive, they often languish behind bars.

Newspapers and magazines must register with the Ministry of Information in order to be granted a publishing license, and reporters must also register with the ministry. The state continues to control all broadcast media.

Ethiopia's dubious distinction of imprisoning the greatest number of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa for all but one of the past five years has had a severe impact on the country's journalists, causing many to leave the profession. For those who remain and persevere in their profession, imprisonment has sometimes proven fatal: In February, Abay Hailu, editor of Wolafen, died after prison authorities denied him medical treatment for a serious ailment.
Attacks on the Press in Ethiopia in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
10/5/98 Samson Seyoum, Goh Imprisoned
9/28/98 Tilahun Bekele, Fetash Imprisoned
7/13/98 Shimelis Kemal, Nishan Imprisoned
7/13/98 Berhanu Negash, Nishan Imprisoned
7/13/98 Teferi Mekonnen, Nishan Imprisoned
7/11/98Bizunesh Debebe, Zegabi Imprisoned
7/1/98 Zegeye Haile, Genanaw Imprisoned, Legal Action
6/19/98 Tesfa Tegegn, Beza Imprisoned
5/15/98 Mekonnen Worku, Maebel Imprisoned
5/12/98 Alemayehu Sherew, Tarik Imprisoned
5/12/98 Dawit Taye, Aemro Imprisoned
5/9/98 Alemayehu Kifle, Zegabi Imprisoned
5/4/98 Tsegaye Ayelew, Genanaw Imprisoned
4/4/98 Dawit Kebede, Fiyameta Imprisoned
4/1/98 Wondwossen Asfaw, Atkurot Imprisoned
3/24/98 Fisseha Alemu, Tarik Imprisoned
2/13/98 Abay Hailu, Wolafen Killed
2/10/98 Kifle Mulat, Ethio -Time, Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFPJA) Imprisoned
1/31/98 Iyob Demeke, Tarik Harassed
1/22/98 Berhanu Leyewe, Keyete, Taime Fiqir Imprisoned
1/22/98 Lulu Kebede, Neka Imprisoned, Harassed
1/16/98 Birru Tsegaye, Tobia Harassed
1/16/98 Goshu Moges, Tobia Harassed
1/16/98 Taye Belachew, Tobia Harassed
1/16/98 Anteneh Merid, Tobia Harassed
1/16/98 Tobia Attacked, Harassed, Censored
1/12/98 Mukemil Shehibo, Beza Imprisoned
1/2/98 Dawit Kebede, Fiameta Imprisoned

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