CPJ: Eritrea, Ethiopia among top journalist jailers

Blogger Eskinder Nega
Blogger-Eskinder-Nega is serving an 18-year term in Ethiopia. (Lennart Kjorl)
Blogger Eskinder Nega
Blogger-Eskinder-Nega is serving an 18-year term in Ethiopia. (Lennart Kjorl)

Press freedom group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has again listed Ethiopia and Eritrea among the top-ten countries who jail journalists.

According to CPJ’s annual census, released on Wednesday, Eritrea remains Africa’s top jailer of journalists, with 22 being locked behind bars.

The survey said none of the detained journalists in Eritrea were charged or brought for a trial.

Neighbouring Ethiopia is ranked as Africa’s second worst, with seven journalists in jail. Egypt follows with five compared to none in 2012.

CPJ’s East Africa consultant, Tom Rhodes, said Eritrea and Ethiopia are ranked among the world’s worst countries for press freedom because their government’s are intolerant for dissent.

“I think they have been on this list year-in, year-out simply because of the governments’ lack of tolerance towards any kind criticism. Every time a reporter reports something critically, they throw them in jail,” he said.

Rhodes says it is very hard to acquire credible information from the secretive Eritrea nation as the Red Sea nation doesn’t allow any foreign journalists or independent bodies to operate.

“It is really a closed off country. It is considered the North Korea of Africa. That said, we mostly rely on exiled journalists, Eritreans who fled the country that tell us what’s going on,” he said.

Since Ethiopia introduced its anti-terrorism law in 2009, detention against journalists and opposition members has sharply increased.

Ethiopia says the journalists were not imprisoned for their reporting but on terrorism related offenses.

International human rights organisations say Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law is deliberately vague and broadly defined which in order to punish dissent and critical journalists.

“Since it was passed, the law has created a climate of fear among the media and it has limited our coverage” a local journalist who works for an independent newspaper told Sudan Tribune on condition of anonymity.

Part of Ethiopia’s “Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009” says that any individual who “writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates, shows, makes to be heard any promotional statements encouraging, supporting or advancing terrorist acts” is deemed a “terrorist”.

“If you are a critical journalist, you could be considered as being a terrorist supporter” said the journalist adding “the very few critical voices have gone following the sweeping law”.

He said his colleague was charged under the anti-terrorism law after repeatedly writing stories that criticise the government.

Ethiopia is among the five countries which account for nearly half the total number of journalists’ worldwide forced into exile during the past decade. The other four countries are Iran, Somalia, Iraq and Zimbabwe.

According to the latest survey, Turkey, Iran, and China are the three leading jailers of journalists, accounting for more than half of the 211 journalists still imprisoned worldwide.

(ST)