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New publications, familiar questions

Journalists in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, today reported that police interrogated the editors of Awramba Times and Harambe, two fledgling independent current affairs weeklies over a series of political stories.

Officers questioned Dawit Kebede of Awramba Times over editorials and interviews in five separate editions of his newspaper since April, Deputy Editor and lawyer Wondrad Debretsion told CPJ. The news items included an editorial challenging the government's assertion of high voter turnout in April's general elections, and a column by opposition leader Berhanu Nega comparing Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, according to Debretsion. Editor Wosonseged Gebrekidan of Harambe was also questioned over three similar stories.

Today's development follows Wednesday's sentencing of Mesfin Negash, the editor-in-chief of the current affairs weekly Addis Neger, to a one-month suspended prison term for publishing an interview of the lawyer of jailed outspoken pop icon Teddy Afro. Negash, who spoke to CPJ via telephone shortly after his release, was detained by High Court Judge Leul Gebremariam on contempt of court charges and spent two days in the cells of the Addis Ababa Police Commission. The author of the comments, defense lawyer Million Assefa was sentenced to a month and 20 days imprisonment and remains behind bar, according to local journalists.

Negash said the one-month suspended prison sentence he received today was his first criminal conviction. In a statement, Addis Neger announced it would appeal the ruling, expressing concern about a potential "chilling effect" on media coverage of court cases in Ethiopia. Nonetheless, Negash expressed gratitude to CPJ for displaying "solidarity" during his ordeal.

Addis Neger, Awramba Times and Harambe have suffered government harassment since becoming the first independently owned political publications since the government banned more than a dozen critical newspapers in a brutal 2005 crackdown on the press and political dissidents.

Speaking to CPJ, Awramba Times' Debretsion expressed the frustrations of many independent journalists:

"Editors are becoming afraid to report anything opposing the government. A democratic government never does anything like this. If they're a democratic government, they have to allow us to report what's going on in Ethiopia and in any other country. Most of the times they're trying to stop journalists from doing what they're supposed to do. If there's a democracy, they should give us a chance to analyze things which are not good, not bad, which are true, which ones are not true; they have to give us a chance to do criticism against the government or other opposition parties.

"It's becoming routine for journalists: You report something, then you go to the police station. ... If they continue like this, our democracy might be under question mark." .

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Comments

Dear Mohamed Keita,

Congratulations for starting a great blog, once again dedicated to defending whatever is left of 'press freedom' in that part of the world.

In 1995, four years after Zenawi seized power, Ethiopian journalists asked Bereket Simon (on behalf of EPRDF) to grant permission for the transfer of the state-owned media to what would be an independent committee representing over 800 media workers throughout the country.

The argument was based on two points:

1) EPRDF is sworn to build democracy in Ethiopia (therefore, the media should be free of government control)

2) EPRDF has a well-oiled propaganda machine (Radio Fana, Radio Woyane, Abiotawi Democracy etc).

Bereket promised us the transfer would be complete after two years, but till then, he said, the journalists should look for alternative ways of income-generating services, because, it was assumed, they would be on their own once the government handed over the media, and withdrew budget.

Well, 13 years later today, Bereket is still in power, there is a more draconian press law in place, and journalism has become an extremely dangerous occupation.

I was surprised to see very courageous journalists like those running Addis Neger and Awramba Times trying to pick up and patch the pieces of press freedom that was shattered in the brutal 2005 crackdown. But once again, the regime reared its ugly head, and unlike the slow-death years between 1991 and 2005, cut the fledgling press in the bud.


a strong solidarity is crucial

Thanks Mr. Mohamed for sympathizing the causes of couragious journalists working in a very hostile situation under the police-state of Zenawi where the rule of law is replaced by rule of tyranny.

Dear Mr Keita,

Your idea of creating a blog is interesting. How did you get this pretty good idea ? I think this will enable us to share our small ideas as journalists.

I have a question. I think you are following up the Kaka case in Niger. Is there a hopeful news about him ? He has been in prison for more than ten months and still no good news regarding his case. We are anxious to hear his release soon, because his emprisonment is going to set a precedent in Africa. What are your means of pressure aimed at freeing Moussa Kaka ?

Augustin Zusanne August 8, 2008 7:27:07 AM ET

Now days Writing a single article in Ethiopia on independent presses become a way to visit a police stations and a one way ticket to go to prisons.Thanks to the same old tactic and the same old face dozen officials of the country who have been runing that great nation for about Eighteen years since 1991, we will not see real freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Based on the principle of Democracy, the press and expression should be free without any gevernmental intervation.

Girma Degefa Geda August 8, 2008 8:31:53 AM ET

We all know what is going on in our land, Ethiopia. At any times and at any cost Ethiopia is our land, so we have to have an equal right with those who cliam they are "Ethiopians." As a principle journalists in Ethiopia are expected to report only "positive information."

In Ethiopia,it is clear that to be journalist is very difficult.To be a real journalist is impposibile. And, it urges us to struggle the stiuation strongliy. We journalists have to be reasonable and balance. We have to show the government that we are professional. Beyond this we don't have to lose our confidence.

Wether we like it or not we are in a non stop fighting, so we don't have to allow them to kill us. Be strong and united.

Dear Girmay Gebru,

As I can see from your statements, you are journalist (maybe of VOA from Mekele). I appreciate that you have genuinely expressed your idea. Viewing the same thing from varying perspective is natural and I welcome your position as a valuable input for further dialogue.

Nevertheless, I would like to challenge your statement, qouate, "...so we have to have an equal right with those who cliam they are "Ethiopians." As a principle journalists in Ethiopia are expected to report only "positive information."

whose principle is this, mr. Girmay?

Don't you think that the peoples of Ethiopia do have a due right to get the right information of whatsoever?

Don,t you think that the oppressed mass need to be informed also about "negative developemnts " in the country?

Don't you agree that the "developemnt journalists" of Walta, Fana, Dimtsi Woyane, Herald, Addis Zemen, ETV, Ethiopian Radios, etc are there for "posetive information"?

Further more, since I am confused to understand the possible cuasal relationship between the two statments quoted above,what 'we' and 'those who cliam they are "Ethiopians."' stand for?

Finally, I would like to ask aplogize in advance if I have misunderstood you!!

Thanks

Dear Mohamed there is an old saying in my language which our elders frequently used it to express their appreciation it is difficult to change it in English but it sound like this :the delicious dish that satisfied your appetite can identified by its aroma before it served: i am really happy and i like your blog at least we have got an access to be heard keep on strong on your best blog

Hello Mohammed,

Thanks for sending the link. Needless to say that scattering the news, the way you do on a worldwide scale, is crucial.

The situation for the local independent media has always been difficult here. If not harassed or taken to the police, print fees were set too high, so that editors couldn't print their newspapers.

I admire my colleagues for their peaceful resistance, by trying to do their job.
There is a new generation of journalists, that knows how to balance stories, and how to analyze the situation in the coutry, and that is causing fear in the government circles. It is not an amateur profession anymore, where some journalists were writing unbalanced reports, or sometimes even invented stories.

They are doing proper reporting, and getting blamed for it.

congra for starting a great blog
MRMohamed your blog has it"s owen roll for 'press freedom'keep it up and "contineua" your solidarity with journalist in difficulty.

wondrad debretsion August 9, 2008 5:24:57 AM ET

Dear Mohamed ,
Thank you for impressive imitative of creating a blog about Ethiopia and freedom of speech in Ethiopia and in diaspora as well.
I strongly believe that such professional blog could make vital difference in the current Ethiopia that needs strong medias. I also hope that your blog would be important for the voiceless . Please keep up doing such wonderful job!

thanks for your pationet and intiotion of to journalists freedom you know it is not stable with short peroiod of time but if we struggle together in ethiopia the press enemies will be deafeate .mohammed continue your strong struggle with press freedom

My dear brother Muleta: There is no different stand between you and me. We are expected means in other words we are forced. They, officials want the 'positive information' but we are here to report what is on the ground.I didn't mean that we have not to report the negative ones.We refers to the really Ethiopians, while the 'Ethiopians' refers to those consider Ethiopians to themselves.
Anyways,please understand what I want to say. We are on the same boat.
Thanks

Some of these so called journalists in Ethiopia are not journalists. They are mainly engaged in misinformation and libelous campaigns intentionally. This of course is illegal in any country, which will also result you in a visit by law enforcement one way or the other, in any country. So, we all need to differentiate real journalists from phony journalists, who are actually criminals in reality disguising themselves as journalists..