On Friday the Zone 9 bloggers are due to appear in court in Ethiopia for the 39th time since their arrest in April 2014. Endalk Chala, a co-founder of the group which is being honored with an International Press Freedom Award from CPJ this year, provides an overview of the drawn out trial and finds that despite the delays and setbacks, support for the bloggers is unwavering.
On Sunday Ethiopians go to the polls in the country's fifth general election since the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front came to power more than 20 years ago. Citizens are expected to choose the right party to lead them for the next five years. To do so, they need to have a clear understanding of their country's political, social, and economic situation. They need to know which parties have the candidates and policies best suited to their own hopes and aspirations. But in a country with limited independent media, many Ethiopians struggle to find the information needed to help them make informed decisions.
It will be one year this weekend since six bloggers were arrested in Addis Ababa, just days after the group announced on Facebook that their Zone 9 blog would resume publishing after seven months of inactivity. As the anniversary of the arrests approaches on Saturday, Soleyana S. Gebremichale, one of the Zone 9 founders who was charged in absentia, told me the situation was not hopeless.
A sharp increase in the number of Ethiopian journalists fleeing into exile has been recorded by the Committee to Protect Journalists in the past 12 months. More than 30--twice the number of exiles CPJ documented in 2012 and 2013 combined--were forced to leave after the government began a campaign of arrests. In October, Nicole Schilit of CPJ's Journalist Assistance program and Martial Tourneur of partner group Reporters Without Borders traveled to Nairobi in Kenya to meet some of those forced to flee.
Five independent magazines and a weekly newspaper have been charged by Ethiopia's Justice Ministry, a move that may add to the long lists of shuttered publications and Ethiopian journalists in exile. In a press release issued August 4, the ministry accused the journals of publishing false information, inciting violence, and undermining public confidence in the government, news reports said.
The ministry said it pressed charges after running out of patience with the publications for "encouraging radicalism and terrorism." The state broadcaster aired the ministry's announcement, but none of the publications received the charge sheet, local journalists told me. The six independent publications are Afro Times, a weekly newspaper, and magazines Addis Guday, Enku, Fact, Jano, and Lomi. All are popular alternatives to the state-run press, which espouses an increasingly positive narrative. Local journalists and news reports said the charges could be a way for the ruling party to silence critics ahead of elections expected in May 2015.
Top African and U.S. leaders are meeting next week in Washington in a first-of-its-kind summit focused on African development. But critics argue the summit is flawed in design, overlooking human rights such as freedom of expression and barring civil society actors from bilateral discussions.
Four years ago, when CPJ launched its Internet Advocacy program, we were met with lots of encouragement, but also some skepticism.
"Why do you need a program to defend the Internet?" one supporter asked. "You don't have a special program to defend television, or radio, or newspapers."
But the Internet is different. Increasingly, when it comes to global news and information the Internet is not a platform. It is the platform.
CPJ is among a group of more than 40 regional and international press freedom and civil society organizations that have signed a joint letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn expressing concern over the recent imprisonment of Ethiopian journalists under the country's far-reaching 2009 anti-terrorism law.
"If they cannot indoctrinate you into their thinking, they fire you," said one former staff member of the state-run Oromia Radio and Television Organization (ORTO), who was dismissed from work last month after six years of service. "Now we are in hiding since we fear they will find excuses to arrest us soon," the journalist, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, told CPJ.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.