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Rights group blasts Ethiopia journalist arrests

November 17, 2016

Campaigners on Thursday accused Ethiopia of an “intensifying crackdown” on the media, with at least three journalists and bloggers arrested or sentenced under a state of emergency since October.

“In recent weeks, Ethiopian authorities have jailed a newspaper editor, as well as two members of the award-winning Zone 9 bloggers’ collective, which has faced continuous legal harassment on terrorism and incitement charges,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.

“A fourth journalist has been missing for a week; his family fears he is in state custody,” the rights group added in a statement, calling for Ethiopia to immediately release the detained journalists.

Ethiopia declared a six-month state of emergency on October 9 — an unprecedented move by a government that has been in power for 25 years — as it pursued a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters that has left hundreds of people dead, according to rights groups.

The country has been in political crisis for around a year as unrest in the central Oromo region spread to Amhara in the north.

More than 11,000 people have been arrested since the start of the state of emergency, according to government figures.

Getachew Worku, the editor-in-chief of independent weekly Ethio-Mihidar, was sentenced to a year in jail Tuesday for “defamation and spreading false information” after he accused members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of corruption, the CPJ said.

TV journalist Abdi Gada, who was unemployed at the time of his disappearance, has not been seen since November 9.

The two arrested bloggers are Befekadu Hailu and Natnael Feleke, whose Zone 9 group has written about political repression, corruption and social injustice.

Hailu was freed from jail in October 2015 after 18 months behind bars accused of “inciting violence” with his anti-government writing. He was rearrested last month.

Feleke was also detained for several days in October, before being released with a caution.

Ethiopia ranked fourth on the CPJ’s list of the 10 most censored countries in 2014, and is the third-worst jailer of journalists in Africa, according to the group’s “prison census”.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.