Addis Ababa, July 25, 2002—After a five-day fact-finding mission to Ethiopia, a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has found that the Ethiopian government is planning alarming changes to the country’s 10-year-old press laws that would severely restrict the rights of Ethiopia’s already beleaguered private press corps.
Although Information Minister Simon Bereket told the CPJ delegation that the new law would promote “constructive and responsible journalism,” journalists said the statutes would lead to a crackdown, driving many of them out of business and behind bars.
Currently, three journalists are imprisoned in Ethiopia.
Bereket said that the law would outline specific do’s and dont’s for the press, and that journalists who publish “false” information would be punished, possibly with criminal sentences and “delicensing.”
Bereket told CPJ that he and the justice minister would “soon” send a draft of the new press law to Parliament, which would hold hearings before passing the bill.
“This is the third time in six years that CPJ has visited Ethiopia, and we are disappointed that the government does not live up to its repeated promises to improve conditions for local journalists,” said Josh Friedman, a CPJ board member, who, along with CPJ Africa program coordinator Yves Sorokobi, was part of the mission.
In addition to meeting with Bereket and other top-ranking officials during their visit, the delegation also met with three Ethiopian journalists—Tewodros Kassa, Lubaba Said, Zegeye Haile—who are currently in jail on various charges of “disseminating false information that could incite people to political violence” and “defamation.”
The delegation is also scheduled to meet with the speaker of Parliament and hopes to discuss its findings with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
CPJ calls on Prime Minister Zenawi and members of his administration to:
- abandon the new press law and to repeal criminal penalties from the current law;
- immediately and unconditionally release the three journalists currently in prison;
- desist from regulating journalistic behavior by enforcing a code of ethics for journalists; and
- stop harassing all reporters working in Ethiopia.