FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 7, 1996
(212) 465-1004, x103
Ethiopian Government Regularly Jails and Harasses Journalists, CPJ Report Reveals
More Journalists Imprisoned in Ethiopia in Past Three Years Than in Any Other African CountryWashington, D.C.--- Ethiopia has imprisoned more journalists over the past three years than any other African country, a new report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reveals. The report, Clampdown in Addis: Ethiopias Journalists at Risk, demonstrates how independent journalists are regularly harassed, censored and jailed under the provisions of a restrictive press law enacted in 1992. This, despite promises of press freedom made by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) in 1991 and by the recently elected Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who served as TGE president.
The report is being released on the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christophers first official visit to Ethiopia and on the day the countrys parliament reconvenes to address key media issues. In addition to making several recommendations to the Meles administration, the report also calls on the United States and other Western countries to take a more aggressive role in encouraging the Ethiopian government to uphold guarantees of press freedom.
Journalists must struggle to practice their profession in an environment that is intolerant of a core democratic principlečthe right to speak freely without fear of government reprisal, said CPJ Africa program coordinator Kakuna Kerina. Kerina, the reports author, went to Ethiopia in May on a fact-finding mission with CPJ board member and former chair Josh Friedman, who wrote the reports introductory essay. Friedman, the U.N. bureau chief for Newsday, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for his reporting on the famine in Ethiopia.
In their discussions with more than 50 Ethiopian journalists, government officials and other sources, Friedman and Kerina found that the Meles government, which still maintains a monopoly on the broadcast media, uses restrictive provisions of the 1992 Press Proclamation to quash opposing viewpoints and limit the news the independent press may report. Under that law:
Ethiopias independent journalists currently work under threat of arrest and prosecution by either a poorly trained police force or an inexperienced, partisan judiciary working in a backlogged court system. Both are spurred on by government officials who are easily offended by public criticism of their policies.
- Libel is classified as both a criminal and civil offense, demanding penalties of payment in the amount of twice the value of a publishers assets.
- Journalists are prohibited from disseminating information that the government deems secretča charge often leveled against journalists reporting on issues of national security or ethnic unrest in the provinces.
- Journalists are guaranteed the right to seek, obtain and report news from any government source, but the private press is routinely denied access to government officials and their agencies as well as to official state press conferences.
Many journalists are arrested in an arbitrary manner, on the initiative of police or as a result of charges filed by the public prosecutor. In many cases, police officers decide independently that publications have acted illegally, and they arrest journalists before gathering evidence or filing charges in the courts.
From 1993 to 1995, more than 50 Ethiopian journalists were imprisonedčof those, 31 were behind bars at the end of last year.
The report recommends that the Meles government take aggressive steps to ensure press freedom in Ethiopia. Among them, CPJ calls on the Ethiopian government to:
The United States, which supports the Meles government and gives Ethiopia the second highest amount of U.S. aid allocated to sub-Saharan Africa, can greatly influence the development of a free press. Among its recommendations, CPJ also calls on the U.S. government to:
- Immediately and unconditionally release all journalists who have been imprisoned for exercising their internationally recognized legal right to report the news.
- Eliminate all criminal libel statutes in the Press Proclamation.
- Abolish excessive bail, which is primarily used as a weapon to drive private publications into financial insolvency.
- Grant the private press equal and unrestricted access to government press conferences, including joint press conferences with foreign diplomatic representatives and other international figures.
- Establish an equitable system that permits private ownership of broadcast media.
- Give media training higher priority when allocating funds for democratization in Ethiopia.
- Issue a public statement granting the private press equal and unrestricted access to all press conferences involving U.S. officials and to all official U.S. Embassy functions.
- Publicly encourage the Ethiopian government to give the private press access to government officials and activities.
To order copies of Clampdown in Addis: Ethiopias Journalists at Risk, please call (212) 465-1004. Or, the text can also be found at CPJs Web site (http://www.cpj.org).
CPJ documents and responds to press freedom abuses around the world. From its headquarters in New York, CPJ works to get detained journalists out of jail, directs international campaigns of protest against repressive governments, and provides practical safety information to reporters assigned to dangerous areas. CPJ is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and does not accept any government funding.
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