Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Melaku Desmisse, Latest Victim Of Ethiopia’s War On Journalists

 Woubshet’s wife Tesfaye with award (CPJ)

The illegal arrest and release on October 9 of Melaku Desmisse, editor of the Amharic-language publication The Reporter, is the latest in a series of assaults Addis Ababa has carried out against media freedom in Ethiopia. It comes at a time when other Ethiopian journalists including Woubshet Taye, Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega, charged under the country’s counterterrorism laws languish in jail.
Desmisse was illegally arrested near Addis Ababa by police from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State (SNNPR) and transferred to Awasa, the capita of SNNPR.
Amare Aregawi, editor of The Reporter told the Sudan Tribunethat Desmisse was “illegally transferred” from Addis Ababa to SNNPR. “It was up to the court’s decision to transfer him to a regional state and not of the Police,” the Sudan Tribune quoted Aregawi as saying.

The Paris-based Reporters without Border (RSF), while recording Desmisse’s illegal arrest has not reported his release. RSF said, “The SNNPR police have no jurisdiction in Addis Ababa and it is completely illegal for them to seize a journalist working there. If Desmisse is accused of breaking any law, he should be brought before a federal court in Addis Ababa, which alone has the authority to try him. In the meantime, we call for the immediate release of this journalist, especially as the reason for his arrest remains puzzling.”
Although details are scanty, reports said it appeared that Desmisse was arrested for The Reporter’s story on September 4 that three vice presidents of SNNPR had been dismissed. The story was incorrect. The newspaper however had retraced the story and issued an apology on September 8.
Meanwhile, at a ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa on October 13, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the Awramba Times, who is serving a 14-year prison term convicted of terrorism, was lauded for his courage. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Taye was awarded the Press Freedom Award at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards 2013. Taye’s wife Berhane Tesfaye and young son accepted the award on his behalf.
CPJ said, “[c]hair of the judging panel and editor-in-chief of the South African weekly City Press, Ferial Haffajee said it was disappointing that ‘once again there were too many cases’ for the judges to consider in this category, which recognizes ‘excellence and provides support to African journalists who report at continuing risk to their lives and safety.'”
Taye has served two years of his 14-year sentence that was handed down in 2012. After he was arrested in 2011, the newspaper’s editor fled the country and publication came to a halt. Berhane Tesfaye said that Taye had been moved from Addis Ababa to Ziwaye prison 83 miles away in April this year. She said although she visited him every two weeks, Taye’s father (102) and mother (90) were too old to undertake the journey.
“In September, Woubshet’s application for a presidential pardon was rejected, according to news sources,” CPJ said.
Eskander Nega is another journalist convicted for “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement, and attempt” under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. He was found guilty in June 2012 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In May the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence. Nega has now appealed to the Court of Cassation.
“Eskinder … denied all the charges against him, saying he has never conspired to overthrow the government through violence and admitting only to reporting on the Arab Spring and speculating on whether a similar movement would take place in Ethiopia. Eskinder’s wife, fellow journalist Serkalem Fasil, maintained that Eskinder is ‘a journalist, not a member of a political party,'” says PEN America that has advocated for Nega’s release.
Nega was the general manager of Serkalem Publishing House that published three newspapers, all banned in the country. He was also a columnist for news magazine Change ad the US-based Ethiomedia, which are also banned.

Authorities Stop Journalists Protesting Censorship in Sudan

Protests in Sudan Against Withdrawal of Subsidy(

In less than two weeks, the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism will honour this year’s winner, Sudanese newspaper columnist and media trainer, Faisal Mohamed Salih, at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington DC. But over the past month, the little space for media freedom in his country has been curtailed further by newspapers arbitrarily shut, the internet temporarily blocked and journalists objecting to the outrage banned from holding protest rallies.
The New York Times on September 30 quoted Salih as saying “The government wanted a total blackout on events in Sudan by local and international media.” 

The latest surge in stifling media freedom is associated with Khartoum’s move to withdraw a government subsidy on petroleum products. Although there has been much publicity given to the government crackdown on the media following clashes between the protesting public and government authorities that left 33 people dead and 700 detained, the restrictions began earlier, in anticipation of public dissent.
On September 19, three days before the demonstrations, the day’s edition of three newspapers – Al-Ayam, Al-Jareedaand Al-Intibaha – were seized by the feared secret police of President Omar Al-Bashir, the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).
“On 18 September, the day before the raids, the NISS told some media by phone not to publish any reports about the government’s withdrawal of subsidies for certain basic commodities. The seizure of the three newspaper issues may have been prompted by a failure to comply with this order,” said the Paris-based media freedom monitor Reporters without Borders (RSF).
After the clashes on the 22nd, restrictions intensified. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that the Sudanese government had tried to portray the demonstrations as acts of vandalism and newspaper editors were asked by authorities to refrain from publishing news that would “disturb the public.” CPJ went on to say that “On Monday (September 30), Sudanese officials confirmed the order on state television, saying that editors had agreed to self-censor in an attempt to not cover news that ‘disturbed the public’ or ‘caused sedition.'”
“‘We did not follow their directions literally,’ said Al-Sudani’s editor, Diaa Bilal. ‘The paper criticised the lifting of subsidies,'” reported the New York Times.
Dia Bilaal was confiscated for one day and suspended for two. But number of newspapers closed indefinitely including the Al-Intibaha, whose September 19 editions were confiscated by the NISS (please see above). CPJ said it was Sudan’s most popular newspaper run by al Bashir’s uncle.
CPJ and RSF also reported that foreign news networks, including the Dubai-based Al-Arabya and the British Sky News were closed indefinitely. CPJ said, “A Sudanese official blamed the networks’ news coverage for the shutdown, saying the outlets were ‘trying to manufacture an Arab Spring in Sudan.'”
Meanwhile, the move that received most amount of publicity – the temporary shut down of the internet occurred on September 25. Although the service was restored, it was after 24 hours.
There were also a number of acts of intimidation. RSFsaid on September 25, “[t]he NISS summoned the editors of the main newspapers to its headquarters and forbade them to publish any information about the protests that did not come from government sources.” CPJ also said Amal Habani, a reporter for the online website Al-Taghyeer(Change) was arrested and detained. CPJ said, “Authorities should release Amal Habani immediately or disclose the charges against her.”
CPJ and RSF said that journalists had resigned in protest at the imposition of censorship and on September 28, the Sudanese Journalists Network had asked around 400 members in its network to suspend work. The strike came to an end the next day.
On October 7, the Sudan Tribunereported that authorities had tried to prevent journalists and trade unionists of the National Umma Party from holding a protest in Omdurman. Although the police and security services had barred journalists from entering the NUP premises, some journalists had managed to slip in and held up banners demanding lifting of media restrictions.
“They also demanded the government to halt what they called the unfair campaign on newspapers and journalists, calling on journalists and advocacy groups and international human rights organisations to campaign against the restrictions and intimidations (sic) on journalists in Sudan,” the Tribune reported.
“President Bashir’s use of the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) to suppress media coverage is allowing the police to deploy deadly force against the protesters with complete impunity. It also shows his vulnerability in the face of the biggest demonstrations since he came to power 24 years ago. We urge the Sudanese government to put an end to these censorship measures, to protect journalists and to guarantee access to independent sources of information in order to encourage dialogue,” said RSF