A rights advocacy group in a report released on Thursday said the Ethiopia’s government has intensified crackdown against independent media ahead of the general elections scheduled for May 2015.
"Ethiopia’s government has systematically assaulted the country’s independent voices, treating the media as a threat," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
“Ethiopia’s media should be playing a crucial role in the May elections, but instead many journalists fear that their next article could get them thrown in jail,” He further said.
The 76-page report, entitled "Journalism Is Not a Crime: Violations of Media Freedom in Ethiopia" said increasing suppression against independent media has forced more than 30 journalists flee the country in 2014 in fear of being arrested under repressive laws.
According to the report, at least 22 journalists, bloggers, and publishers were criminally charged, in the past year. The government has also shut down six privately owned critical publications.
Most print publications in Ethiopia are closely affiliated with the government and almost never deviate from the government perspectives on critical issues.
“The state controls most of the media, and the few surviving private media self-censor their coverage of politically sensitive issues for fear of being shut down” The report added.
Human Rights Watch said Journalists who publish critical articles regularly receive threatening telephone calls, text messages, and visits from security officials and ruling party cadres.
Some journalists told rights group that they have received hundreds of these threats.
“If this does not silence them or intimidate them into self-censorship, then the threats intensify and arrests often follow”.
The report added courts in Ethiopia have shown little or no independence in criminal cases against journalists who have been convicted after “unfair trials” and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, often on terrorism-related charges.
“Muzzling independent voices through trumped-up criminal charges and harassment is making Ethiopia one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists,” Lefkow said.
“The government should immediately release those wrongly imprisoned and reform laws to protect media freedom.”
The group called on authorities in Ethiopia to take the political will to amend oppressive laws and make significant reforms that would improve media freedoms before the elections.
Although, Ethiopia’s ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party has brought tremendous economic growth, however it widely is accused of doing little to improve human rights.
EPRDF, which had been in power since 1991, occupies all except two of the parliament’s 547 seats.
Election officials on Friday told Sudan Tribune that, out of the expected 33 million eligible Ethiopian voters, over 12 million of them have registered so far since registration opened on 9 January.
The ruling EPRDF party won a landslide victory during previous election in 2010. The party is widely expected to win the upcoming parliamentary polls.
Source: Sudan Tribune