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Release all detained Journalists, EAJA Urges Ethiopian Authorities

 Article 19

1 May 2014

The Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA) has urged Ethiopian Authorities to immediately release all journalists in jail and bloggers recently arrested.

EAJA said the journalists and bloggers should be released immediately to coincide with this year’s World Press Freedom Day to be marked globally on May 3, adding that Ethiopia has a duty to demonstrate greater commitment to press freedom and respect for human rights.

According to EAJA’s local affiliate, the Ethiopia National Journalists Union (ENJU) and various media reports, three journalists and six bloggers were arrested last Friday, 25 April, and Saturday, 26 April and detained by the authorities on the strength of an arrest warrant from a public prosecutor.

The journalists arrested included Tesfalem Weldeyest, who writes commentaries on political issues for Ethiopia’s Addis Standard magazine and Addis Fortune newspaper, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, senior editor at an influential Amharic weekly magazine Addis Guday, and Edom Kassaye, who previously worked at state daily Addis Zemen Newspaper and is an active member of the Ethiopian Environmental Journalists Association (EEJA).

The group of bloggers arrested and detained includes Atnaf Berahane, Befeqadu Hailu, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Abel Wabela and Zelalem Kiberet who are reportedly members of the Zone 9 group, which is known to be critical of government policy, and who have in the process drawn a large following on social media.

The group is accused of using social media to destabilize the country and collaborating with international human rights organizations. They were arrested by armed security forces and taken from their homes to the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector ‘Maikelawi’.

“We call on Ethiopian Authorities to immediately release the journalists and bloggers arrested last week and to also release all jailed journalists as this consistent crackdown on media workers is not only an affront to press freedom and the right to freedom of expression but also undermines the country’s own constitution and other international instruments,” said EAJA Secretary General Alexander Niyungeko.

EAJA local affiliate, ENJU, expressed concern over the arrests and silence of on the part of the government. “We wish to express concern over the arrests and the subsequent silence by the government over the issue. We immediately demand clarification for the government, ” said ENJU President Anteneh Abraham said.

The arrests came following an April 23 on Facebook posting by the bloggers in which they said they would resume publishing after seven months of inactivity.

Ethiopia has since 2009 carried out a crackdown on journalists and civil society groups, especially after the passage of the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation which gave the government sweeping powers to arrest those it deemed seditious, including journalists.

A number of journalists have been convicted under the provisions of the country’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism law. They include Solomon Kebede, Wubset Taye, Reeyot Alemu, Eskinder Nega, Yusuf Getachew, and recently Somali reporter Mohamed Aweys Mudey.

Eskinder Nega is serving an 18 year jail term, Wubshet Taye is serving 14 years while Reeyot Alemu is serving a five-year prison sentence. Somali journalist Mohamed Aweys Mudey was also sentenced to 27 years in prison.