By Jacey Fortin
At the Lideta courthouse in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, stands a statue of a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales in her outstretched hand–a universal symbol of justice, here cast in metal of pinkish gold and wearing thick braids in her hair.
Not far behind her is a brick-and-concrete building where some of Ethiopia’s most controversial court hearings in recent years have taken place. Journalists Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Martin Schibbye, and Johan Persson have all turned up for high-profile cases in those high-ceilinged rooms, in front of wooden benches packed to capacity with diplomats, friends, and family.
2014 was a busy year for Ethiopia’s judiciary–and a bad one for media professionals. In July, photojournalist Aziza Mohamed was arrested on the job. In August, the justice ministry pressed charges against five independent magazines and one newspaper. In October, former newspaper editor Temesgen Desalegn was sentenced to three years in prison for criminal defamation. The wave of arrests prompted at least 30 journalists to flee into exile during 2014, according to CPJ research. By late in the year, 17 journalists were in prison in Ethiopia–more than in any other African country except for Eritrea.
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