By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
November 10, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – An international rights group has accused the Ethiopian government of further intensifying crackdown on privately-owned media, forcing large numbers of journalists to flee the country.
Last week, a report released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said around 30 scribes known for criticising government have fled abroad since the start of this year.
Targeted harassment and intimidation, RSF said, has created a “climate of terror” within the media community thereby driving more journalists to flee the country.
RSF further said the witch-hunt against the private press has also forced at least six publications to close in recent months.
“The entire staff of some publications has fled abroad. They include Lomi, whose editor, two of its reporters and six other employees fled abroad as soon as the judicial proceedings were initiated” it said.
Some journalists who have fled to Kenya and visited by Reporters Without last month said they were in steady fear of being followed by the Ethiopian embassy’s agents.
The alleged crackdown comes as the Horn of Africa’s nation prepares to conduct national elections in May next year.
Political analysts and opposition figures in Addis Ababa told Sudan Tribune that the government is trying to crush the few remaining private publications ahead of the upcoming election to silence election-related criticisms.
They further argued that crackdown against the press as well as mass arrests against critical journalists and opposition officials will continue in the run-up to elections.
An Ethiopian media analyst who spoke to RSF on condition of anonymity said the situation was worrying because it will was likely to at least continue until May next year.
“Even if the bloggers and journalists continue to appear in court, their case won’t advance before the elections. The government is deliberately blocking it,” he observed.
It said the privately-owned press is clearly experiencing its most difficult period in a decade as the few publications remain staggering.
RSF called on the Ethiopian authorities to stop persecution campaign against independent media and called for immediate release of jailed journalists.
“We call on the authorities to reverse these convictions of journalists and media owners on specious grounds in recent months and to withdraw all the charges against the news and information providers currently jailed or in exile,” said RSF’s deputy programme director, Virginie Dangles.
Observers of the situation in Ethiopia say the latest crackdown is the worst since a previous one that took place following the 2005 elections.
Although the Ethiopian government spokesperson was not available for comments, Addis Ababa has in the past denied arresting journalists on the basis of their activities.
Several right groups have repeatedly accused the country of using anti-terrorism law as a tool to punish critical journalists and opposition figures.
Ethiopia may have registered satisfactory economic growth during the past decade, but the country has a very poor human right records.
Currently, the horn of Africa nation is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.