U.S. State Department changes plans after reviewing CPJ’s Ethiopia report

Warren Christopher
Warren Christopher

U.S Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
During his trip to Ethiopia in October, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher declined the Ethiopian government’s invitation to hold a joint press conference upon his arrival in Addis Ababa. This was in response to a CPJ mission report that details the legal harassment and imprisonment of Ethiopian jour- nalists and the government’s exclusion of the private press from official press conferences.

Christopher instead held a news conference in his Addis hotel to which both official and independent media were invited, along with the traveling press. In a public statement, Christopher told reporters: “Ethiopia has made progress in human rights during the past five years, but the United States wants to see more. One of the areas of our concern is the freedom of the press and the treatment of journalists.”

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns told the Committee’s chair, Kati Marton, that CPJ’s report Clampdown in Addis: Ethiopia’s Journalists at Risk led to the change in the secretary’s plans.

Christopher raised the issue of press freedom in discussions with the prime minister, and he met privately with a group of independent journalists and representatives from opposition groups and human rights organizations to discuss their concerns about the government’s treatment of the private press.

The Committee’s report is based on a fact-finding mission conducted last May by Africa program coordinator Kakuna Kerina, who wrote the report, and CPJ board member and Newsday U.N. bureau chief Josh Friedman, who wrote the report’s introductory essay. Based on more than 50 interviews with government officials, journalists, and other sources, the report documents how independent journalists are regularly harassed, censored, and jailed under the provisions of a restrictive press law enacted in 1992. The repressive climate exists despite promises of press freedom made by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) in 1991 and by the recently elected Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who served as TGE president. Clampdown in Addis, which was released on Oct. 7–the day Ethiopia’s Parliament reconvened to address key media issues–made several recommendations to the Meles administration and called on the United States and other Western countries to take a more aggressive role in encouraging the Ethiopian government to uphold guarantees of press freedom.

“Secretary of State Christopher’s position is a welcome step toward what CPJ hopes will be a continued U.S. government commitment to press freedom and support for Ethiopia’s independent journalists,” said Kerina. “We look forward to the time when the Ethiopian government views the private press as an ally, not an enemy, in the democratic process.”

To get a copy of Clampdown in Addis: Ethiopia’s Journalists at Risk, please call (212) 465-1004.