ADDIS ABEBA – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says it is “concerned” about a recent wave of press freedom violations in Ethiopia, including an army general’s direct threat against a journalist.
Paris-based advocacy group says the trend could set back the significant progress that Ethiopian began making more than a year ago.
Responding to questions from journalists earlier this month about reporting by Temesgen Desalegn, the editor of the weekly Feteh, defense ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Tesema reportedly called him “useless”.
“We will not be responsible for any member of the armed forces who feel aggrieved by this report and takes a measure against Temesgen,” he said.
He added: “We will be taking action legally against reporting by media houses that tarnish the reputation of the armed forces.”
Reporters Without Borders has condemned “these threats”.
“We condemn these threats, which have come amid a worrying surge in press freedom violations after remarkable progress since last year,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk.
“We urge the government and security forces not to reverse course on press freedom. Recourse to intimidation, arrests and online censorship will not help to make the media more professional or, even less so, encourage an environment in which the media can fully participate in democratization and peace in Ethiopia.”
After taking office in April 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government released all detained journalists, allowed hundreds of previously banned news websites and other media outlets to operate, and repeatedly pledged to respect free speech and press freedom.
But, amid mounting ethnic tension, it has been sending disturbing signals in recent months.
The Internet was disconnected twice for several days at a time last month, the first time beginning on 10 June on the official grounds of preventing cheating during end of school year exams, and then again beginning on 22 June in response to armed clashes in the Amhara region, which the government described as a coup attempt.
In the wake of this alleged coup attempt, Asrat TV journalists Berihun Adane and Getachew Ambachew were arrested under the 2009 terrorism law, which was widely used in the past to arbitrarily detain journalists and bloggers.
It has not so far been possible to determine if they were arrested in connection with their journalism.
Ethiopia is ranked 110th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index after jumping 40 places in a single year, more than any other country in the 2019 Index.