Trumpeting economic growth on par with India and asserting adherence to the authoritarian model of China, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi pushed an ambitious development plan based in part on ever-hardening repression of critical journalists. The government aggressively extended application of a 2009 anti-terrorism law, designating rebel and opposition groups as terrorists and criminalizing news coverage of them. Authorities were holding seven journalists in late year on vague accusations of terrorism, including two Swedes who reported on separatist rebels in the oil-rich Ogaden region, and three Ethiopians with critical views of the ruling party. The government provided no credible evidence against the journalists, and both Zenawi and state media proclaimed the journalists' guilt before trial proceedings started. The Human Rights Committee of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights raised numerous questions about the use of the terror law in its periodic review of Ethiopia's record. In November, government intimidation led to the closing of the independent Awramba Times and forced two of its journalists, including 2010 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee Dawit Kebede, to flee the country. Another journalist fled into exile in September after his name appeared in unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. Police threatened to arrest the journalist after the cable showed he had spoken to U.S. diplomats about a potential press crackdown.
Ethiopia has driven more journalists into exile over the past decade than any other nation in the world, according to CPJ research. Official harassment and the near-constant threat of imprisonment have compelled dozens of journalists to flee.
Imprisonments in Ethiopia rose in 2011 in concert with its aggressive extension of terror laws. Dissent, and even coverage of dissent, was conflated with treason.
Two Swedish journalists reporting on separatist rebels were convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to 11 years in prison apiece. Two Eritrean journalists remained in government custody on vague terrorism accusations after being jailed in 2007. With seven jailed in all, Ethiopia's crackdown propelled it into the ranks of the world's leading jailers of the press.
With investments from China's ZTE Corp. and France Telecom, the government retained monopoly control over state-owned Ethio Telecom, allowing it to conduct the most substantial filtering of Internet sites in sub-Saharan Africa, according to CPJ research and the OpenNet Initiative. Censorship of online media secured authorities a spot in CPJ's May report on the world's worst online oppressors.
The ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) controlled all but one of 547 seats in the House of Peoples' Representatives. Since 2008, the chamber enacted three laws restricting independent media, political opposition, and civil society organizations. The party's grip on the chamber mirrored its dominance of the media and political scenes.
EPRDF's dominance of media and politics:
Media regulation and licensing: 100 percent (EPRDF controlled the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority)
Newspaper printing presses: 100 percent (EPRDF controlled the two state-owned printing presses)
Broadcasters: 95 percent (EPRDF supporters controlled 21 of 22 broadcasters)
Newspapers with in-depth political coverage: 60 percent (EPRDF supporters controlled six out of 10 newspapers)
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.