New York, October 31, 2001—Following a recent fact-finding mission to Ethiopia, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today sent a letter to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi listing a host of restrictions that still hamper the growth of a genuinely independent and professional press in the Horn of Africa nation.
CPJ’s weeklong mission was conducted by Africa program coordinator Yves Sorokobi, who met with senior government officials, opposition and human rights activists, and journalists from both the state and private media. The mission ended on October 10 with a visit to Ethiopia’s last jailed journalist, Tamirate Zuma, a former editor with the weekly Atkurot.
During the last decade, Ethiopia has jailed more journalists than any other country in Africa, with seven languishing in Addis Ababa’s notorious Kerchele Penitentiary at the end of 2000. While CPJ welcomes recent improvements, it said that Zuma’s continued imprisonment demonstrates the Zenawi government’s “mistrust and hostility toward the private press.”
Emphasizing that a web of conflicting, outdated laws have effectively criminalized independent journalism in Ethiopia, CPJ called for Tamirate Zuma’s immediate and unconditional release.
In the past, Prime Minister Zenawi has often dismissed independent newspapers as the “gutter press” and excluded them from government press conferences. On October 11, at the end of CPJ’s fact-finding mission, he announced that “responsible and constructive” private publications would now be invited to official briefings.
In its letter, however, CPJ noted that officials continue to deny the private press access to government information, in violation of the Ethiopian Constitution.
CPJ urged the prime minister to ensure that pending court proceedings against some 80 journalists are canceled and to remove restrictive provisions in the press laws.