Only days after the IFJ global conference on anti-terror laws, Ethiopia was the next country to crack the whip and arrest at least five journalists, and to charge them under anti-terror laws.
Eskinder Nega, an online journalist, was alleged to be helping a US-based opposition party Ginbot 7 plan various terrorist attacks across the country. Two other foreign journalists, contributors to the Swedish photo agency Kontinent, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, were last week charged with terrorism after being arrested in July while trying to cross the Ethiopia-Somalia border into the Ogaden region where Meles Zenawi’s government is fighting the Ogaden National Liberation Front rebels. Another journalist, Argaw Ashine, has reportedly fled the country fearing arrest.
The IFJ member union in Ethiopia, the National Journalists Union (ENJU), said the arrests created a climate of fear among journalists. Following their request for information, Federal Police Central Intelligence and Crime Intelligence Director, Assistant Commissioner Demelash Gebremichael said that the journalists were arrested after the National Intelligence and Security Service and the Federal Police Joint Anti-terror Task Force got evidence that they were engaged in destabilising peace and security in the country and spying on behalf of external forces.
When I met Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with an IFJ delegation in January last year, he boasted about Ethiopia becoming a paragon of press freedom. Even if this was true, it did not last long and it looks that Zenawi is taking a leaf from the book of many despots, showing no scruples in using anti-terror laws to silence his critics.