Ethiopian Journalists in Solidarity with Press Freedom Denounce Growing Repression
More than forty of our colleagues were arrested in 2021. In this open letter, we call on the government to respect media rights.
We, the undersigned Ethiopian journalists and media professionals, take an uncompromising stance on press freedom and as such unreservedly condemn any persecution of fellow journalists and media professionals in Ethiopia who are targeted simply for doing their work.
Today we stand in solidarity with our colleagues across the country.
For decades, Ethiopia has earned a reputation as one of the best jailers of journalists in the world due to institutional and systemic repression of critical voices and low tolerance for any form of dissent. Ethiopia’s infamous counter-terrorism proclamation, enacted in 2009, paved the way for journalists to be charged with treason, terrorism and life in prison. This led to the arrest or exile of dozens of Ethiopian journalists and served as a pretext to shut down broadcast and print media that were unresponsive to pro-government narratives. At no time in its modern history has an independent Ethiopian press been allowed to flourish.
The political facelift that Ethiopia experienced in 2018 has instilled a lot of collective optimism. The journalists were released from prison; exiles were invited to return home with the promise of being allowed to work undisturbed. Foreign-based news outlets set up shop in Ethiopia for the first time. By the end of 2018, Ethiopia had no media personnel in its prisons for the first time in over a decade, a promising development.
We are disappointed and saddened by the setbacks and reversals of progress made only a few years ago, which had edified Ethiopian media professionals and inspired many of them who aspired to contribute in their personal capacity to the expansion of the sphere of the independent press in our country.
However, the country has since backtracked significantly on its promises to respect press freedom. Detentions of journalists have once again become the norm. News outlets were forced to close and the independent local press was all but sabotaged. In the year 2021, two journalists, Dawit Kebede and Sisay Fida, were killed and more than forty journalists and media personnel were detained, which allowed Ethiopia to join the ranks of the best jailers journalists in Africa.
We are disappointed and saddened by the setbacks and setbacks recorded just a few years ago, which had edified Ethiopian media professionals and inspired many of them who aspired to contribute in their personal capacity to the enlargement of the sphere of the independent press in our country. These feelings have long been replaced by disillusionment.
Media freedom is an essential part of thriving communities and cannot be compromised. Journalists improve the societies in which they live by pushing for social progress and accountability. However, the hostile environment that so many of our colleagues in Ethiopia currently find themselves in intimidates them, languishing behind bars, living in fear of the very real risk of arrest and considering quitting their jobs or fleeing the country.
With the sad news that three media professionals – Amir Aman Kiyaro, Tamerat Negera and Thomas Engida – are set to stand trial, and with the lack of voices in Ethiopian society to defend the country’s journalists, we, the the undersigned Ethiopian journalists gathered in unison and declared that:
- We acknowledge the suffering and uncertainty endured by fellow journalists, media staff and their families in Ethiopia during this critical time. We also unreservedly honor their strength and resilience.
- While welcoming the release of a number of journalists detained in recent weeks, we reiterate our call for the immediate release of all journalists and media staff still imprisoned across Ethiopia.
- We echo the message of press freedom advocates in Ethiopia and around the world by calling for respect for laws guaranteeing Ethiopians their hard-won press freedom rights.
- We would like to express our gratitude to organizations that have remained steadfast in their commitment to imprisoned and persecuted Ethiopian journalists, including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Sincerely, the following media personnel* (listed in alphabetical order):
- Abdulrazaq Sheikh Hasan
- Akemel Negash
- Argaw Ashine
- Dawit Endeshaw
- Dejene Gutema
- Eshete Bekele
- Eyasped Tesfaye
- Getachew Assefa (Phd)
- Kalkidan Ejigu
- Maya Misikir
- Moonira Abdulmenan
- Reeyot Alemu
- Sadik Kedir
- Shimelis Meressa
- Tsedale’s lemma
- Zacharie Zelalem.
* A dozen additional journalists wanted to sign the letter but did not receive permission from their employers.