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International community must act against latest curbs on free speech in Ethiopia

Johannesburg, 9 July 2012: Recent moves to curb freedom of expression in Ethiopia represent a steep escalation in an ongoing campaign to silence dissent, says global civil society network CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

On 27 June, prominent blogger and human rights defender Eskinder Nega was convicted along with five other exiled journalists for attempting to incite violence and overthrow the constitutional order. Eskinder was arrested on 14 September 2011 after he wrote an article criticising the manner in which Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation was being used to stifle free speech. The authorities have accused him of attempting to start an uprising through a series of articles he wrote on the Arab Spring and through his analyses of the political situation in Ethiopia. Sentencing for Eskinder, who is in custody, and for other journalists who were tried in absentia, is planned for 13 July.

It is estimated by media watchdog groups that at least 11 journalists have been convicted in Ethiopia through politically motivated trials over the course of the last six months and 49 have fled the country over the last five years.

“Accusing members of the press of being terrorists and then using the criminal justice system to put them behind bars marks a further and dangerous decline in the rule of law in Ethiopia,” says Mandeep Tiwana, Policy and Advocacy Manager at CIVICUS. “By silencing dissenting voices through legal manipulation, Ethiopian authorities are demonstrating a worrying contempt for their international human rights obligations.”

Ethiopia is also currently considering a bill to control online information and telecommunications. In its draft stage, the proposed Telecom Fraud Offences Proclamation seeks to ban the use of internet-based communication from sources other than the Ethiopian government-controlled monopoly. The draft law reinforces government surveillance and censorship over electronic communications by criminalising both the provision and use of telephone and fax services through the internet, bringing into question the future ability of Ethiopians to access voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services through globally popular means such as Skype and Google Talk.

Notably, the draft law provides for punishment of up to eight years in prison for disseminating a “terrorising message” connected to an offence under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation. Broad and vaguely defined provisions contained in the anti-terrorism law are frequently invoked to silence dissenters in Ethiopia, and there is a danger that social media postings and updates critical of the government would be prosecuted through the ambit of the proposed law.

Independent media in Ethiopia is already under severe pressure, operating at the risk of reprisals for publishing news and analysis critical of the government. Most independent newspapers have shut down and a number of journalists have fled Ethiopia. In April this year, the editor of the popular weekly newspaper Feteh was fined and handed a suspended four month prison sentence for contempt of court after prosecutors accused the paper of publishing articles undermining people's trust in the rule of law. The newspaper had published a transcript of the testimony given by Eskinder Nega in court.

In April 2012, Berhanena Selam, Ethiopia’s primary state-owned printing press, issued a self-censorship directive informing newspaper and magazine publishers that it would refuse to print information that it believed to be in breach of the anti-terrorism law. The directive also required newspapers and magazines to agree to the new terms and conditions before using the printing press’ services.


CIVICUS urges the international community to: (i) unequivocally condemn the ongoing restrictions on civil society and democratic freedoms in Ethiopia; (ii) engage substantively with the Ethiopian government to reverse restrictive legislation and policy; and (iii) put in place mechanisms to monitor the human rights situation in Ethiopia and to make recommendations to the government.

CIVICUS is a legally registered non-profit 501 (c) (3) organisation, EIN 52-1847010 (USA)

CIVICUS is a registered non-profit organisation, registration number 029-864-NPO (South Africa) 

As a signatory/member to the INGO Accountability Charter CIVICUS is committed to upholding the highest standards of professional conduct and accountability.

Copyright (c) 1996  -  2012, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation
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