Senegal: CPJ urges Ethiopia to release detained journalists

Dakar, Senegal (PANA) - Ethiopia should immediately release all journalists detained amid an intensifying crackdown on the media, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Thursday.

In a statement made available to PANA in Dakar, Senegal, the press freedom watchdog disclosed that the Ethiopian authorities had jailed a newspaper editor, Getachew Worku, as well as two members of the award-winning Zone 9 bloggers' collective, which had faced continuous legal harassment on terrorism and incitement charges.

A fourth journalist, Abdi Gada, is said to be missing for a week and his family fears he is in state custody.

According to CPJ, the crackdown on the media comes amid mass arrests following large protests that led the government to declare a state of emergency on 9 October.

Security forces are said to have detained more than 11,000 people since the state of emergency was declared.

"Silencing those who criticize the government's handling of protests will not bring stability," remarked CPJ Africa Programme Coordinator, Angela Quintal.

"The constant pressure on Zone 9 bloggers with repeated arrests and court appearances is clearly designed to intimidate the remaining independent journalists in Ethiopia."

The statement pointed out that Ethiopia's Supreme Court on 15 November continued hearing prosecutors' appeal of a lower court's October 2015 acquittal of four bloggers from the Zone 9 collective - Befekadu Hailu, Natnail Feleke, Abel Wabella, and Atnaf Berhane - on terrorism charges.

It was noted that the security forces again detained Befekadu, a co-founder of the collective, which CPJ honoured with its 2015 International Press Freedom Award.

He was said to have been taken into custody from his home on 11 November and the authorities had not yet announced any new charge against the blogger.

The statement disclosed that Befekadu's friends had said that they believed he might have been arrested following an interview he gave to the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America's Amharic service, in which he criticised the government's handling of the protests.

An Ethiopian journalist in exile in Kenya, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, told CPJ that Befekadu's criticism of the government's handling of protests in the Oromo and Amhara regions of Ethiopia on his blog may have also led to his detention.

According to the press freedom watchdog, security forces also detained another Zone 9 blogger, Natnail Feleke, on 4 October on charges he had made "seditious remarks" in a restaurant while criticising the security forces' lethal dispersal of a protest.

In another development, CPJ said a court in the capital Addis Ababa on 15 November sentenced Getachew Worku, the editor of the independent weekly newspaper Ethio-Mihidar, to one year in prison on charges of "defamation and spreading false information" in connection with an article published in the newspaper alleging corruption in a monastery.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia ranked fourth on CPJ's 2015 list of the 10 Most Censored Countries and is the third worst jailer of journalists in Africa, according to CPJ's 2015 prison census.
-0- PANA MLJ/MA 17Nov2016

17 november 2016 16:43:10

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