ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – The war in northern Ethiopia has accelerated the deterioration of press freedom, erasing progress made by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after he came to power in 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.
Since fighting broke out in November 2020 between Abiy’s government and Tigrayan rebels, at least 63 media workers have been arrested, the United States (US)-based watchdog said in a statement released late on Monday.
“The conflict between the federal government and the rebel forces led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has prompted a media crackdown that extinguished the glimmer of hope sparked by the initial reforms of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed,” the CPJ said.
“Ethiopia had 16 journalists in jail on December 1 (last year) – meaning that it would have tied with Eritrea as sub-Saharan Africa’s worst jailer of journalists,” it said, adding that eight media workers remained in jail as of August 1.
Ethiopia witnessed a wave of arrests targetting journalists in late May, with some accused of operating without authorisation or fomenting ethnic or religious conflict.
The arrests mark a sharp reversal for Ethiopia, which had jumped 40 places in the press freedom rankings compiled by Reporters Without Borders in 2019, as Abiy sought to lift the authoritarian restrictions imposed by the TPLF, which dominated politics for nearly three decades.
Ethiopia is currently ranked 114th out of 180 countries in the group’s index, down from 101 last year.
In a separate statement also published on Monday, the CPJ called for the immediate release of Temesgen Desalegn, editor of the Amharic-language magazine Fitih, after Ethiopia’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s decision to grant him bail.
“Ethiopian authorities are holding Temesgen Desalegn in custody to bar him from continuing his journalistic work; such blatant abuse of the judicial system is appalling,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative Muthoki Mumo.
Temesgen was detained in May and has reportedly been charged with disclosing military secrets and disseminating inaccurate, hateful, or subversive information meant to demoralise the public.
CPJ has also urged the TPLF to free five journalists working for a local broadcaster in the war-torn region of Tigray.