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Ethiopia: Two journalists arrested as pressure mounts on private media

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has condemned the arrests of two journalists working for privately-owned newspapers in the past few days.

The latest victim is Reyot Alemu, a young woman reporter for the Amharic-language weekly Fitih, who was arrested on June 21, two days after the arrest of Woubeshet Taye, the deputy editor of the Amharic-language Awramba Times. Both are now the subject of a judicial investigation and are being held at the Addis Ababa centre for federal investigations in Maekelawi.

The authorities have not announced any charges, but it is believed they are accused of links with “terrorist” organisations.

“We call on the Ethiopian government to quickly account for these arrests, which have been carried out in an irregular manner and in which the legal limit for police custody (48 hours) has been exceeded,” RSF said. “The mystery surrounding their detention is unacceptable. These shady methods suggest a desire to stifle outspoken media and impose a news blackout on government abuses by scaring journalists and pressuring them to censor themselves on a regular basis. We demand their immediate release and the withdrawal of the proceedings against them."

“We are very disturbed by these arrests, which seem to have been carried out under an anti-terrorism law adopted in July 2009 and in accordance with a revision of government security policy two weeks ago. By accusing journalists of links with terrorist organisations, the government could be paving the way for repressive measures against independent media that will jeopardise diversity of opinion.”

After arresting Alemu, police searched her home and seized articles she had written, CDs and copies of the weekly with the apparent aim of using this material as evidence of “terrorist activities.”

After Taye was arrested by federal police at his home on June 19, he was held in the utmost secrecy at the Maekelawi federal investigations centre before reportedly being taken before a court on June 21. It is believed he could be accused of links with Ginbot 7, an opposition group which parliament recently declared to be a “terrorist” organisation. The authorities have had Taye in their sights for years and he had to resign as the editor of the Awramba Times following the media regulation agency’s constant harassment of the weekly in June 2010.

New York-based press freedom group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said, "These accusations against Woubshet Taye and Reyot Alemu must be viewed in light of the Ethiopian administration's longstanding practice of using trumped-up charges to silence and jail critical independent journalists. It is outrageous that a government spokesman should publicly accuse journalists of terrorism when they have not been charged with any crime and are unable to respond because they are in detention. They should be freed immediately."

In an interview with Bloomberg News, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal said the arrests of the two journalists had "nothing to do with viewpoints they have published." Alemu had recently criticized the ruling party's public fundraising method for a major dam project on the Nile, and Taye has critically covered local politics as the deputy editor of his newspaper.

Last week, Kemal told CPJ no journalists were incarcerated in Ethiopia, which is not true, according to CPJ research. Six journalists are currently behind bars in Ethiopia, two on vague criminal charges and four on vague terrorism accusations, including Taye and Alemu, according to CPJ research. Ethiopia is the second leading African jailer of journalists, behind Eritrea.

Date posted: June 28, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 132