Ethiopia’s stifled press By Washington Post Editorial Board

February 9th, 2015 Print Print Email Email

WHILE ENJOYING its status as an international development darling, Ethiopia has been chipping away at its citizens’ freedom of expression. The country now holds the shameful distinction of having the second-most journalists in exile in the world, after Iran. That combination of Western subsidies and political persecution should not be sustainable.

According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, at least 60 journalists have fled the country since 2010, including 30 last year, and at least 19 have been imprisoned. Twenty-two faced criminal charges in 2014. The government closed five newspapers and a magazine within the past year, leaving Ethiopia with no independent private media outlets. With the country headed toward elections in May, the pressure on the media has undermined the prospect of a free and fair vote.

Ethiopia has long been known for its censorship and repression of the media, but the situation has deteriorated in recent years. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the country has since 2009 “banned or suspended at least one critical independent publication per year.” After the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi in 2012, successor Hailemariam Desalegn has tightened the regime’s stranglehold on the press. Even Ethiopia’s rival Eritrea looks better: It released several imprisoned journalists last month.

As Human Rights Watch documents, journalists and media outlets who dare publish critical articles routinely receive threatening phone calls, texts and e-mails from party officials and security personnel. Journalists’ movements are often restricted outside of the capital, Addis Ababa. Sources who talk to foreign journalists and human rights organizations can face threats and detainment.

The repression extends across the media ecosystem. State agents harass printers and disrupt distribution processes associated with critical publications. Journalists who flee into neighboring countries are tracked and threatened. The government blocks Web sites from the Ethiopian diaspora, and it has jammed signals of foreign broadcasters, including Voice of America.

Much of the persecution has come under the guise of counterterrorism by a regime that has been a player in the fight against the al-Qaeda-allied al-Shabab. At least 38 journalists have been charged under a 2009 “anti-terrorism proclamation” and the criminal code. In 2012, prominent journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega was jailed for 18 years on charges of terrorism after criticizing the government’s repression.

Despite these policies, Ethiopia has retained its status as a U.S. ally and recipient of large amounts of U.S. development assistance — including $373 million for health and humanitarian programs in 2014. By contrast, U.S. spending on democracy and human rights assistance in Ethiopia has fallen dramatically in the past several years, from $3.4 million in 2012 to $162,900 in 2014. The decline in assistance for human rights bows to a 2009 law that prohibits nongovernmental organizations receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from abroad from conducting human rights advocacy.

The State Department recently spoke out against the media crackdown. But more than words should be at stake. The Obama administration should link continued aid to the release of imprisoned journalists and bloggers, and it should enlist other Western aid donors to do the same. The West should not be subsidizing a regime that is one of the world’s leading persecutors of journalists.

  1. Akalu
    | #1


    There is nothing new about this kind of misrepresenting systemic racist and hate article, according to white dominated media outlates, that the entire Middle East, ASIA and AFRICA continent is under oppression and the leaders are always bad, because the indirect message is that non white dominated countries were inferior to think to themselves and to their countries.
    Where did you hear non bias positive news about AFRICA and Middle East and Asian countries from white dominated newspapers and broadcasting of CNN,BBC etc….???? Never, these western mass medias always galvanize and exaggerate bad new about other countries.

  2. Asazagn
    | #2


    This not a matter of trusting or not trusting a certain media from a certain place. Do not simply mislead. If you have evidence, tell us what has been written was wrong. For us here all is true.We are living as is written. Do you blame others for what your compatriots do worse. It is not a kind of misrepresenting systemic racist and hate by the media you said you do not trust. We are living under brutal regime with systemic racism for its selected few. Please be realistic. Do not blame others just to defend the people you are crony to may be because of the preferntial treatment you got or want to get from them, may be not understanding them and your people well and may be.. But please it is true unless you gave deaf ear and blind eye to the situation of the country.

  3. Hunde
    | #3

    `Akalu` is either a weyanne or hodam because he/she is trying to divert attention and deny the crimes of his TPLF bosses against the free press and medis in Ethiopia. The naked truth is that freedom of expression is banned and non-existent in Ethiopia under the TPLF. This criticism of the crimes of the TPLF has nothing to do with racism and hate. If `Akalu`is really against racism and hatered,he or she should first condemn the racist and exclusionist politics of the TPLF. He or she as a hypocrite TPLF cadre and greedy,will not dare do so. Ethiopians will fight the racism, marginalization and exploitation of the TPLF and ensure all their rights including free media and freedom of expression.

  4. Demeke
    | #4

    About Akalu’s comment,

    I may agree and relate with Mr. Akalu’s comment, I have been living here in North America for more than two decades, and I had rarely heard positive news from North American and European mass medias about black nations regardless of in what continent these black nations located. Always negative about black people,black government and blacks culture.

  5. Adem
    | #5

    To Akalu and Demeke;
    Why are you guys drawing and trying to use the card of racism to defend or cover up the truth in Ethiopia? The well documented and known suppression, criminalization and penalizing of the free media and press by the TPLF. The commentator Hunde is quite right in saying, if you are really against racism, you must not support a racist and fascist organization such as the TPLF. If you mean what you say (stand against racism elsewhere and the US, then You have to condemn the TPLF for its racist and discrimnatory rule. Your selective use of the racist card proves that you guys are weyannes or hodams as Hunde hs written. You are like the person in the glass house and throwing stones/rocks.

  6. Take it face value
    | #6


    I live in AMERICA for the past 19 years, yes it is true that unspoken systemic RACISM still exist in America. Not only in journalism communities but also in every civil sector, governmental and in the police departements.

  7. Abebe G.
    | #7

    @ Adem,

    Dear brother Adem, You are very confused and lost, or unintelligent to observe and read facts beneath our nose.

    What we have in Ethiopia is political differences not racism, since we have a single race in Ethiopia. Rather, What we have in America is the pure history of racism that still lingering for centures in America and some western European countries who is religiously hateful and subjugating systemic cultured and institutionalized racism against non whites.

  8. Dilwenberu
    | #8

    The statement by the washington post is full of errors and I believe that the newspaper has been fed wrong and msileading informasjon by the members of the toxic and vocal Amhara diaspora.But the US government is aware of Ethiopia`s successes in democratic governance and economic development.Ethiopia is now Afrika`s economic tiger and leading the continent in economic growth and good governance.

  9. Senay
    | #9

    The disgraced members and supporters of the TPLF should not deny the fact that the politics and rule of the TPLF is the same as the racist apartheid system that existed in South Africa. Racism is not a matter of colour or race. It is the institutionalised form of discrimination and marginalization which are typical of the ethnical fascist rule of the TPLF. For example the late TPLF ethnic leader Meles Zenawi declared that the Tigrayans as the golden ethnic group and the TPLF gives gives special treatments to members of the golden group (political and economic power)

  10. Negash
    | #10

    The TPLF is a fascist and racist organization and discrimination and marginalization are integral parts of its misrule in Ethiopia. Every non-Tigrayan living in Ethiopia is experiencing the racism of the TPLF.It is now common to see Tigrayans amassing wealth and becoming multi-millionaires over night while the rest of us are pushed into poverty and misery.The blind, greedy followers and supporters of this fascist front must realize that this discriminating and marginalizing system is coming to its end.

  11. በእምነት
    | #11

    በመጀመሪያ dilwenberu የሚለው ስም በአማረኛ ሲጻፍ የዲያብሎስወንበሩ ይመስላል: ትርጉሙን ተሳስቸ ከሆነ በእምትጠላው አማረኛ ልታስተካክልልኝ ትችላለህ::አጻጻፉም እንደ ስሙ ነው::እንደስሙስ ባይሆን ኖሮ በማፊያ ቡድን የምትመራውን አገር ዲሞክራሲዋ የተዋጣላት : በአፍሪካ በድህነት ከኒጀር በቀር የሚበልጣት አገር ሳይኖር በአፍሪካ የኢኮኖሚ መሪ ናት ባላልክ ነበር:: ያለመንግስት የምትኖረው ሱማሊያ እንኩዋ ከዛ በታች አልተመደበችም::
    ኣቶ የዲአብሎስወንበሩ: ለመሆኑ ደርግ በወደቅበት ጊዜ በአፍሪካ የመጨረሻ ጥቂት እዳ የነበረባት ኢትዮጵያ መሆንዋን ታውቅ ኖርዋል? በአሁኑ ሰአትስ የተቆለለባትን እዳ ታውቃለህ? በከንቱ እየቀባጠራችሁ ብዙ ባታናግሩን መልካም ነው:: በእርግጥ ደደቢት አካባቢ ከሆነ የምትኖረው ከመጀመሪያውም ስለኢትዮጵያ ሁኔታ የማወቅ እድሉንም አላገኘከውም ማልት ነው:: ስለዚህ በእድልህ እዘን: ወይንም መኖሪያህን ቀይርና ተማር ብየ እመክርሃለሁ:: በዚያውም እግርመንገድህን ከዲያብሎስወንበርነት ትላቀቃለህ:: በመጨረሻም አማራ ብለህ ለመሳደብ አፍህን አትክፈት:: ወላጆችህን ስለ አማራ ብትጠይቃቸው ደግሞ ለተራበ የሚያበላ ሩህሩህ ሕዝብ መሆኑን ያስረዱሃል እንጂ እንደ አሁኖቹ ጊዜ ያነሳቸው ደንጊያ የሚሰብሩ ቅሎች የተራበ የሚበላ ህዝብ ነው አይሉህም ብየ አምናለሁ::ለሁሉም ልብ ይስጥህ::

  12. qoilmatta
    | #12

    The enemy never had the gut to talk to Ethiopians face to face; neither it had the strength to meet the patriots one-on-one. This is what the enemy has been, and it will remain so now and tomorrow.

    Yes, the enemy busted its chance and would Ethiopians give it a second chance. The enemy, during its 23 years stay in our country pocketed billions of dollars and murdered a lot of Ethiopians from different walks of life and from varieties of professions, and thousands more citizens have been locked in gulags and prisons and have been terribly murdered.

    It is pointless to give any more chance to the enemy; therefore, the enemy deserves one and only one thing; that is, a defeat by the supreme feast of Ethiopians and get buried underneath the pile of the regime that it built twenty three years ago. The road that Ethiopians have travelled on is right now wide and long to the known victory that we as well as the enemy itself has been known it from the start. Throughout this long march with an intense fighting against the enemy, Ethiopians have deeply understood that the picture, so big a picture would be vivid and widely seen by all Ethiopians as the freedom of living in peace and tranquility.

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