Clampdown in Addis: Ushering Ethiopian Journalism into the 21st Century

CPJ is encouraged that, while at the end of last year 31 journalists were in prison in Ethiopia, only nine journalists remain in detention as this report is going to press. Of those nine journalists, one is nearing completion of an 18-month prison term, and the rest were remanded to custody because they were unable to present personal guarantors for prohibitive bail amounts ranging from 8,000 birr (US$1,300) to 30,000 birr (US$4,800).

Based on the comprehensive meetings held during the course of our mission, CPJ has identified several areas of continued concern. Improvements in these areas would contribute substantially to the creation of an environment within which members of Ethiopia’s media can work freely and can develop into the skilled professionals that all of the journalists we met with aspire to become.

To bring about these improvements,
CPJ calls on the Ethiopian government to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all journalists who have been imprisoned for exercising their internationally recognized legal right to report the news.
  • Eliminate all criminal libel statutes in the Press Proclamation, particularly those pertaining to seditious libel, which criminalizes critical commentary on public officials and government policies.
  • Restore the right of detainees to apply for habeas corpus, as granted by Art. 19, Sec. 4 of the 1995 Constitution, to prevent indefinite pretrial detention.
  • Abolish excessive bail, which primarily serves to render private publications financially insolvent.
  • Train police officers, the judiciary, and government officials on the internationally recognized rights of journalists, the role of the press in a democratic society, and general human rights issues.
  • Establish an equitable system that permits private ownership of broadcast media.
  • Grant the private press equal and unrestricted access to government press conferences, including joint press conferences with foreign diplomatic representatives and international figures.
  • Establish the already promised government press office so that the media can be informed about government policies and activities. It should also be this office’s responsibility to respond to all inquiries from the press.
  • Continue to provide the private press with equal and unrestricted access to government training programs and facilities.
  • Accredit members of the press, both state and private, so that they may freely cover parliamentary activities.

The United States, which supports the Meles government and gives Ethiopia the second highest amount of U.S. aid allocated to sub-Saharan Africa, can greatly influence the development of a free press in this newly democratic society.

CPJ calls on the U.S. government to:

  • Give media training higher priority when allocating funds for
    democratization in Ethiopia.
  • Issue a public statement granting the private press in Ethiopia equal and unrestricted access to all press conferences involving U.S. officials and to all official U.S. embassy functions.
  • Publicly encourage the Ethiopian government to give the private press access to government activities and officials.
  • Fund training for the Ethiopian judiciary, police force, and regional government officials on the internationally recognized legal rights of journalists, the role of the media in a democratic society, and general human rights issues.
  • Encourage and coordinate media funding by other foreign government representatives in Ethiopia.
  • Expand the media analysis section on Ethiopia in the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.