Ethiopia expels American journalist reporting in rebel area

New York, June 18, 2010—Authorities in Ethiopia expelled an American journalist on Thursday who had been reporting near a rebel area in the east of the Horn of Africa country, according to local journalists.

Heather Murdock had been reporting with the U.S. international broadcaster Voice of America (VOA) in the eastern region of Harar, near an area where there was reported skirmishes between the army and rebels of the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), according to the same sources. The Ethiopian government has denied journalists independent access to the restive Ogaden province, which neighbors the Harar region, and attempted to censor an exclusive report on the rebels last year, according to CPJ research. Under Ethiopia’s draconian anti-terrorism law, journalists risk as many as 20 years in prison if authorities deem their reporting favorable to armed rebels and banned opposition groups.

VOA confirmed to CPJ that Murdock had left the country. Assistants to Ethiopian government spokesmen Bereket Simon and Shemelis Kemal told CPJ the officials were not available for comment. The Ethiopian government announced plans to officially jam VOA in March, after reports that there had been electronic jamming of the station’s Amharic-language shortwave broadcasts and that its Web site had been blocked in the country.

“We condemn the expulsion of Heather Murdock,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Ethiopian authorities have for years used the threat of expulsion to induce self-censorship among foreign journalists working in the country.”

Murdock arrived in Ethiopia last month after she was expelled from Yemen in April following a reporting trip to strongholds of Yemen’s armed separatist Southern Movement, according to news reports. In Ethiopia, she covered the country’s general election and its aftermath, among other topics.