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In Ethiopia, anti-terrorism law chills reporting on security

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's ruling party has designated five groups as terrorist entities. (AFP)

How can an Ethiopian reporter cover the activities of Ethiopia's leading opposition figure, Berhanu Nega, or an attack by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels without risking prosecution and a 20-year prison sentence? Such questions have haunted Ethiopian journalists since a far-reaching anti-terrorism law came into effect in 2009. The law criminalizes any reporting authorities deem to "encourage" or "provide moral support" to groups and causes the government labels as "terrorists."

Recently, a day after a fly-by visit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Ethiopian House of Peoples' Representatives (where the ruling EPRDF controls 99.6 percent of the seats) formally designated five groups as terrorist entities, pursuant to a power conferred on the chamber by the anti-terrorism law, according to local journalists. The list comprised Al-Qaeda and the hard-line Somali Islamist militant Al-Shabaab, the Ethiopian separatists groups ONLF and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), but also Ginbot 7, a banned political party started by U.S.-based opposition leader Nega.

Ethiopia is a country whose relative stability in the troubled Horn of Africa region is in great part maintained by repression of dissent and ever-increasing restrictions on the freedom of the press. It receives praise and assistance for its participation in U.S. counterterrorism in Somalia, but for Ethiopian journalists, reporting on terrorism (as defined by their government) without risking jail time has become too risky.

"The irony is, the government may pride itself on its efforts to fight terrorist groups, but we [reporters] will think twice before writing about it," said a local journalist who requested anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

"At this point, any Ethiopian opposition member living abroad is a terrorist, along with Al-Qaeda, and we sure as hell won't interview them," said another local reporter who requested anonymity for security reasons.

"If a reporter writes anything, except clear denunciation about these organizations, she or he is taking the risk of any interpretation," journalist Mesfin Negash told CPJ. Until November 2009, Negash was the managing editor of the leading weekly Addis Neger, whose staff fled the country after columns in the state daily Addis Zemen accused the paper of promoting anti-constitutional groups by covering Ginbot 7 activities. This week's categorization will help recast a pall over any critical reporting in the country.

The Ethiopian government has long considered the ONLF, OLF, and Ginbot 7 terrorist outfits and also targeted international media for providing coverage. In 2009, the Ethiopian government went as far as accusing the Kenya-based broadcaster Nation Television (NTV) of giving a platform to terrorist groups in the Horn of Africa for airing a report on the OLF. In 2008, authorities accused Qatar-based satellite network Al-Jazeera of "direct and indirect assistance to terrorist organizations" over an exclusive report on the ONLF. In 2007, three New York Times journalists were detained for five days for reporting on the ONLF.

To exiled Ethiopian blogger Kiflu Hussain, the risk of retroactive persecution or prosecution on previous coverage poses another threat to journalists. "Anything ever written about these now outlawed groups could be fair game," said Hussain, who lives in Uganda. "The ruling party is known for holding grudges and applying its draconian legislation retroactively to target its adversaries, real or perceived." 

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Comments

anyone who is not part of the ruling party or TPLF is terrorist according to Males,
Ogaden is under Blockage and its people are dying for hunger but no one writes anything,

If the state says they are terroristes, then they are one. And if the states believe that no reporting should be made about them, then you need to follow it whethere you are local or international reporter. At the end of the day, Ethiopia is an independent country and no amount of pressur from the west in the form of "CPJ, Human Right Watch, Amnesty International or Satate department" can control it by a remot control.

So much for your love of freedom of speech, I know i will not see this comment on your website.

I think the truth has been recovered in this article.

Well-informed Article June 25, 2011 3:50:39 AM ET

he (Meles) hate the country and the people so much, wherever decision he make it's against the counties interest. May God be with Ethiopian people.

Oh Woyane after 20 years of governance you try to imitate the "derge" system as it is. No doubt these all will be changed

The article shows the reality.there is no more democracy and freedom of expression in ethiopia.

The problem is no one in Melese's regim paid a price for their crime.

The fellow named Molla sumed it up, by saying they can do anything and get away with it. Some one have to show them there is a price to pay for acting like street tugs. Until them we will live by the gangs' rule.

How does the world see us (Ethiopians)? Don't we deserve our natural rights of living free? How do Obama, Cameroun, Sarkozy, Mercle,....understand "human right?" Can one tell me whether the definition for "human" excludes us please? I am getting insane of looking answers to these question. The leaders of this world always shout "human right!, democracy!, freedom of speech!, no dictatorship!...." But they hide these slogans when it comes about Ethiopians. We are living only for the good-will of our most dictator meles. I am really disappointed of living in this world where Meles and those unfair leaders of the world live.

What the world show now about Meles:

1. He is one of the most deceptive, pretentious rulers on our planet. He speaks good English, loves to make use of formulaic expressions like promoting democracy, ensuring the rule of law and refining good governance. He has been deceiving the West like no one else befor him because of his fluence in English.

2. Meles Zenawi is deeply ethno-centric. In Ethiopia 98% of key military positions are held by Tigre people, Meles Zenawi's own ethnic group. The complex espionage and security network is exclusively controlled by Tigre people.

3. The monopoly of military power has been designed to achieve an economic end. Meles Zenawi's ethnic group controls multi-billion-dollar business group called EFFORT. EFFORT loots the country's wealth because of political and military protection it gets from Meles Zenawi. There is no any sector that EFFORT has not put its foot print--from import and export to trasportation, construction, pharmaceutical, mineral extraction and exploration, agro-business, hotel, tourism, steel and cement, banking, insurance, higher education, fertilizer distribution, engineering and assembly, procurement, etc. The list goes on.

"Ethiopia is a country whose relative stability in the troubled Horn of Africa region is in great part maintained by repression of dissent and ever-increasing restrictions on the freedom of the press."

if dissent causes instability, then it has to be repressed!


Those comments targeting ethnic groups are totally unacceptable. How can a sensible "Ethiopian" who believe in the country's unity use such divisive, racist words to give a comment on freedom of expression. How come? No one can get legitimacy just by insulting and alleging ethnic groups. No way! This is not the way forward to get into political debates and the ladder of political leadership. Hate can't bring love. As far as we need consent from all nationalities of Ethiopia, we have to show respect them based on fraternity. Leaders must be questioned on their individual political view not based on their ethnic background. Is this the democracy you are going to build in Ethiopia? Totally insane!

Dear Mr. Keita,

Thank you for leading the effort on exposing the dictators in Africa.

The regime ruling Ethiopia, Woyane, has no human face. It is a merciless regime composed of people who flip-flop from one extreme inhumane ideology (communism as practiced by the deciples of Enver Hoja, the Albanian Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist dictator who implemented the worst form of communism) to yet another grotsque one, Woyane-styled Apartheid. For the leaders of Woyane anything that dehumanizes Ethiopians is the best measure. So take no offence if they restrict God-given human rights of all humanity, the right for free expression. It is only after the removal of this criminal regime through peaceful citzens' resistance that Ethiopians will have the opportunity to enjoy their God-given human rights.

Thank you, and may God give you the strength to stand with the voiceless unheeded.

Sincerely