Attacks on the Press
The death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in August in a Belgian hospital brought an end to a 21-year rule characterized by repression of dissent and iron-fisted control of the independent press. His fatal illness was shrouded in secrecy. After Meles disappeared from public view in June, the government played down rumors of his illness and suppressed in-depth domestic reporting. The government also faced rare demonstrations by members of the Muslim community, who protested what they called government interference in their affairs. Security forces violently dispersed the gatherings, cracking down on journalists who reported on them, and forcing three Muslim-oriented newspapers to close. The government drew widespread international condemnation for the convictions of nine Ethiopian journalists on vague and politicized terrorism charges. The journalists, five of them exiles tried in absentia, were handed sentences ranging from eight years to life imprisonment. The government finally freed two Swedish journalists who were imprisoned for 14 months for reporting on separatist Ogaden rebels. Six journalists remained behind bars in late year, including award-winning writer Eskinder Nega.