Ethiopian Journalist Struggles to Find Sanctuary Abroad – Rap21

July 3rd, 2008 Print Print Email Email

In Ethiopia, the political happenings have more than often dictated the activities of the private press. Whether tensions flare on the borders of Eritrea or Somalia or the incumbent government is in danger of losing power the press has always felt the repercussions.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), following the 2005 elections, at least twenty journalists were jailed and a further 100 Ethiopian media practitioners, including 37 journalists, have fled the country in search of freedom and safety since 2001. (more…)

In Ethiopia, the political happenings have more than often dictated the activities of the private press. Whether tensions flare on the borders of Eritrea or Somalia or the incumbent government is in danger of losing power the press has always felt the repercussions.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), following the 2005 elections, at least twenty journalists were jailed and a further 100 Ethiopian media practitioners, including 37 journalists, have fled the country in search of freedom and safety since 2001. Editor in chief Daniel Gezahegen of the Addis-Ababa based Amharic language newspaper Mogad spoke to RAP 21 about his experiences in and out of jail and eventually what pushed him to look for sanctuary in Yemen in 2005.

“I was an editor in chief of a known newspaper in my country. I was an activist and one of the communities known people [in Ethiopia]. Most of all I was a dignified freeman. Today I am an unknown refugee in a foreign country,” said Gezahegen in 2007 to The Yemen Times. Today Gezahegen’s situation is worsening amid tightening Yemeni-Ethiopian relations and little assistance from the international community.

When Gezahegen was in Ethiopia he was perpetually under the scrutiny of the government. In 2001, he was arrested over six times for writing allegedly false and slanderous stories about the government and Ethiopian Air Force.

Four years later with the opposition party poised to dismantle Meles Zenawi’s regime, Gezahegen was caught in the severe crackdown on opposition political parties that extended to other sectors of support in the civil society groups and media outlets. The Amharic-language press, which included Mogad, was subsumed under the denounced opposition. Freedom House reported that more than a dozen publications were shut down that also accounted for 80 percent of the circulation of Amharic newspapers. The effects have continued today-fewer than ten papers are published in Addis Ababa compared to 20 in 2005.

After the 2005 elections, which were foreseen to be milestone in Ethiopian history, Gezahegen was detained for one week. According to Freedom House, journalists were charged with treason, genocide, and attempts to subvert the Constitution-all which carry the possibility of the death penalty.

Following his release on bail he chose to flee the country with Tamra Serbesa, another journalist who was reportedly left partially paralysed in 1998 by Ethiopian security officers. “Despite that we decided it was better to risk our lives and die at sea rather than be caught by the Ethiopian authority,” Gezahegen told the Yemen Times. In January 2006, Gezahegen and Serbesa arrived by ship in Aden, Yemen.

Upon their arrival the two journalists immediately sought assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Aden to apply for refugee status. However, they were confronted with a plethora of obstacles and Gezahegen told RAP 21 that even two years after their initial visit, no help from the UNHCR has been provided. “They will not respond. The Yemen police harass us and some of the local people discriminate against us,” said Gezahegen to RAP 21.

As a result Gezahegen has turned to the media to shed more light on the plight of refugee journalists like him. Though Gezahegen said that even that has its dangers. Gezahegen told RAP 21 that the most imminent threat he fears is extradition. “Every time we do an interview with the local press or international radio stations critical of the Ethiopian government the Ethiopian embassy officials harass us,” Gezahegen told RAP 21.

“There is a political bilateral agreement between Yemen and Ethiopia that will be renewed in three months where many innocent refugees could be deported,” said Gezagegen to RAP 21. Previously, Gezahegan had stressed Yemen’s pivotal role in hosting refugees from African-horn countries because of the geographical proximity and cultural similarities. However, now his aim is to get to the United States, but without the help of the UNHCR Gezahegen said his prospects look grim.

Gezahegen’s tribulations have also been compounded with medical problems. Soon after his arrival in Yemen he was diagnosed with diabetes and liver and kidney problems.

“We beg on the streets for food with using sign language because we can’t speak Arabic,” said Gezahegen to RAP 21 about what the past eight months have been like since he has had no where to live. “The Yemen security officials gave us a warning because we live in the street,” he continued.

Gezahegen’s experiences over the past three years upholds a statement made by executive director Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): “The difficult conditions that journalists are willing to endure in exile serve as testament to the dire circumstances in their home countries.” In Ethiopia, there has been little movement since 2005 insofar as opening up the media-the private press published within the country is nearly defunct and the 100 exiled journalists from the crackdown continue to live abroad.

  1. aselefu
    | #1

    Is it true that Ethiopians can watch eritrean national tv? Is eritrean tv accurate and not biased? Is it possible to watch ethiopian tv in asmara?
    By the way why is Eritrean tv showing the same tomato farm and old train day in and out?

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