Thursday, August 21, 2014

New charges against Ethiopian publications further diminish critical voices - Committee to Protect Journalists

By Tom Rhodes/CPJ East Africa Representative

Addis Guday magazine is among the publications charged. (Addis Guday)
Addis Guday magazine is among the publications charged. (Addis Guday)
Five independent magazines and a weekly newspaper have been charged by Ethiopia's Justice Ministry, a move that may add to the long lists of shuttered publications and Ethiopian journalists in exile. In a press release issued August 4, the ministry accused the journals of publishing false information, inciting violence, and undermining public confidence in the government, news reports said.
The ministry said it pressed charges after running out of patience with the publications for "encouraging radicalism and terrorism." The state broadcaster aired the ministry's announcement, but none of the publications received the charge sheet, local journalists told me. The six independent publications are Afro Times, a weekly newspaper, and magazines Addis Guday, Enku, Fact,Jano, and Lomi. All are popular alternatives to the state-run press, which espouses an increasingly positive narrative. Local journalists and news reports said the charges could be a way for the ruling party to silence critics ahead of elections expected in May 2015.
Repeated calls to the Justice Ministry and a government spokesman went unanswered.
The ministry's charges are not unexpected. In February, the pro-government Ethiopian Press Agency, a state-controlled news wire, conducted a study analyzing the content of the publications and concluded they were responsible for inciting violence and upholding opposition viewpoints, according to local news reports. Many local journalists at the time said they feared the study would be used as a pretext to target the publications later. "It's a strategy the government uses when they want to stop a newspaper," Habtamu Seyoum, an editor at popular magazineAddis Guday, told me by phone. "They will prepare an article claiming that a journalist or media house should be closed. The next step is to jail or close the media house; it's done as a sort of formality."
The Justice Ministry's charges reflect a trend of authorities silencing critical media. Since 2009, the government has banned or suspended at least one critical independent publication per year, according to CPJ research.
Addis Guday stopped publishing on August 9. Several staff went into exile shortly after the government announcement, fearing imminent arrest. CPJ research shows their fears are likely justified. "We had police surrounding our offices, insults printed by the government press, constant phone threats--and now [these charges]. It was just too much," Addis Guday Deputy Editor Ibrahim Shafi told CPJ. A week before the staff members fled, police raided their offices twice in one week, ostensibly to investigate financial records, he said.
The country's politicized justice system coupled with the ruling party's near zero-tolerance approach to criticism has led a steady flow of journalists to flee the country. CPJ has directly assisted at least 41 journalists fleeing Ethiopia since 2009, and the total number of exiles is likely higher. Those who have fallen out of favor with authorities, whether from independent or state media, feel exile or imprisonment are their only options.
Authorities arrested another Addis Guday editor, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, in Aprilon terrorism charges, and arrested photojournalist Aziza Mohamed in July on vague accusations of incitement. Ethiopian authorities have a penchant for sentencing journalists to jail after presenting charges, no matter how spurious the charges may be. Data collected from the registrar of Ethiopia's Federal High Courtsuggest 95 percent of journalists accused by authorities are found guilty, according to, which publishes news about detained journalists in Ethiopia.
Lomi ("Lemon") failed to print on August 8 and is unlikely to do so again, local journalists told me, because printers fear publishing anything that has fallen out of the ruling party's favor. Last month, police searched Lomi's offices and accused the staff of working without a license, a charge they denied, local journalists said.
According to the state-run Addis Admas, all but one of the magazines failed to publish recently.
A court in the capital, Addis Ababa, summoned the general managers of three publications--FactAddis Guday, and Lomi--on August 13, but only the general manager of Lomi appeared, according to news reports. Local journalists told CPJ they expect the other three publications to be summoned to court soon.
CPJ was not able to reach journalists from Afro TimesEnkuFact, or Jano.
If these publications close down due to this latest government challenge, Ethiopia's meager circulation of weekly independent publications--roughly 60,000 for a population of 90 million people--will decrease further. There is only one television station, run by the state, and out of five radio stations, three are staunchly pro-government. The state-run telecommunications company is the sole Internet service provider for a country with the second lowest Internet penetration rates in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Telecommunication Union. With limited independent voices, voters' access to critical news sources and informed debate ahead of Ethiopia's May 2015 elections may be negligible. The ruling party would probably not want it any other way.
[Reporting from Nairobi]

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Julian Assange: What next for the WikiLeaks founder? | Guardian Explainers

EFF to Ethiopia: Illegal Wiretapping Is Illegal, Even for Governments | Electronic Frontier Foundation

Earlier this week, EFF told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that Ethiopia must be held accountable for its illegal wiretapping of an American citizen.  Foreign governments simply do not have a get-out-of-court-free card when they commit serious felonies in America against Americans. This case is the centerpiece of our U.S. legal efforts to combatstate sponsored malware.
In February 2014, EFF filed suit against the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia on behalf of our client, Mr. Kidane, an Ethiopian by birth who has been a U.S. citizen over a decade. Mr. Kidane discovered traces of Gamma International's FinSpy, a sophisticated spyware product which its maker claims is sold exclusively to governments and law enforcement, on his laptop at his home in suburban Maryland. A forensic examination of his computer showed that the Ethiopian government had been recording Mr. Kidane’s Skype calls, as well as monitoring his web and email usage. The monitoring, which violates both the federal Wiretap Act and Maryland state law, was accomplished using spyware that captured his activities and then reported them back to a command and control server in Ethiopia controlled by the government. The infection was active from October 2012, through March 2013, and was stopped just days after researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab released a reportexposing Ethiopia's use of use of FinSpy. The report specifically referenced the very IP address of the Ethiopian government server responsible for the command and control of the spyware on Mr. Kidane’s laptop.
The Ethiopian government responded to the suit with the troubling claim that it—and every other foreign government—should be completely immune from suit for wiretapping American citizens on American soil. Ethiopia’s filing rests on several logic-challenged premises. Ethiopia claims that the recording of Mr. Kidane’s Skype calls and Internet activity at his home in Maryland actually took place in Ethiopia, and is therefore beyond the reach of any U.S. court. Worse still, Ethiopia claims that it had the "discretion" to violate U.S. law, reducing the Wiretap Act to something more like a traffic violation than a serious felony.  Interestingly, Ethiopia does not actually deny that it wiretapped Mr. Kidane.
Yesterday, EFF and its co-counsel at Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresifiled a response knocking down each of Ethiopia’s arguments, noting that not even the U.S. government is allowed to do what Ethiopia claims it had the right to do here: wiretap Americans in America with no legal process whatsoever.  We argue that Ethiopia must be held accountable for wiretapping Mr. Kidane, just as any other actor would be. Neither its status as a government nor the fact that it launched its attack on Mr. Kidane from Ethiopia gives it carte blanche to ignore the law. If Ethiopia legitimately needed to collect information about Americans for an investigation, it could negotiate a deal with the U.S., called a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, which would allow it to seek U.S. assistance for something like a wiretap. Otherwise, there simply is no “international spying” exception to the law for foreign governments, nor should there be. When sovereign governments act, especially when they invade the privacy of ordinary people, they must do so within the bounds of the law.  And when foreign governments break U.S. law, U.S. courts have the power to hold them accountable.
This is the next step in what we hope will set an important precedent in the U.S., fighting back against the growing problem of state-sponsored malware.  No matter what one thinks about the NSA spying on Americans inside the U.S. (of course EFF believes that this has gone way far too), it should be easy to see that foreign governments—be they Ethiopia, China, or as EFF itself experienced Vietnam—do not and should not have that right. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Video Journalist, Translator Killed in Gaza

Ethiopia's "Terrorist" Journalists and Bloggers | Adam Bemma

Posted: Updated: 
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NAIROBI, Kenya - A cursory glance at the headlines shows that Ethiopia has one of Africa's fastest growing economies. But the noise generated by the hyperbolic international media is drowning out the critical voices.
Political opposition is being strangled by the authorities as activists and journalists are arrested and thrown into jail at a dizzying pace.
On April 25 of this year, the Ethiopian government made news by arresting six bloggers and three freelance journalists. Setting a dangerous precedent for other governments in the region and beyond, authorities are now targeting youth online.
The nine writers are facing terrorism-related charges, standing accused of inciting violence through social media. The six bloggers are members of the online collective known as Zone 9 . The moniker was chosen to represent the inalienable right to freedom of expression: journalists are often held in the section of Addis Ababa's Kality prison known as Zone 8.
"The government claims [those detained] are conspiring with foreign non-governmental organizations, human rights groups," said journalist Araya Getachew. "It also claims that they are also working for banned terrorist organizations trying to overthrow the state. This is totally false."
State crackdown online
Araya Getachew, 29, along with Mastewal Birhanu, 27, and Fasil Girma, 29, all sought refuge in Kenya following a state crackdown on media in Ethiopia. Some veteran journalists were not so fortunate: Woubshet Taye, Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu have all been recently sentenced under a new media law.
Human Rights Watch is monitoring  the situation. HRW stated: "Since Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law was adopted in 2009, the independent media have been decimated by politically motivated prosecutions under the law. The government has systematically thwarted attempts by journalists to establish new publications."
Critical blogs and websites are regularly blocked, says HRW. In 2012, even publishers which printed publications that criticized authorities ended up being shut down.
Mastewal was arrested last year alongside his editor for printing editions of the newspaper Feteh. The reason the authorities gave for shutting down the newspaper and arresting Mastewal and his editor was that they published news of the death of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi before an official government announcement was made.
"The government confiscated and burned all 40,000 copies of the newspaper," Mastewal says. "I was put in jail and charged. I refused to plea bargain to help convict my editor. I left the country."
"For me," says Araya, "there's no doubt if I were in Ethiopia that I would have been arrested by now. Most bloggers and freelancers there are my friends."
All three Ethiopian journalists now live in Nairobi, Kenya's capital. Unlike most Ethiopian emigrants in Kenya, they are political, not economic, refugees.
Mastewal and Araya applied at the UN High Commission for Refugees, or UNHCR, to be resettled in Canada. They still await a response from the Canadian High Commission.
"We made our claim together with UNHCR," Araya said. "We have file numbers but nobody to call, no contact person at the high commission. They still have not told us when we'll be leaving for Canada."
Crusading journalism
Fasil founded a public forum in Ethiopia for journalists to discuss issues of corruption in government. Not long afterwards, he was all but chased out of the country.
"I left Ethiopia two years ago," he says. "I was doing research with Transparency International . We sent an anti-corruption report to the Ethiopian government for feedback and then the pressure became so intense that I had to leave."
The Ethiopian and Kenyan governments have recently started working together to combat the spread of terrorism across the region. This cooperation is making Nairobi-based Ethiopian journalists feel uneasy about speaking or writing freely.
"With the Kenyan security forces rounding up refugees," says Fasil. "I fear deportation. It's tough to go out and come back safely."
It is now over 100 days, and counting, since the six Zone 9 bloggers and the three freelance journalists were thrown into Ethiopian prison cells. For Fasil, like most political refugees, life in Kenya is tough. But, unlike Araya and Mastewal, he is not yet ready to give up and head to Canada.

Ethiopian government to bring criminal charges against six weeklies - Reporters Without Borders

Ethiopian government to bring criminal charges against six weeklies


Ethiopia’s justice ministry has announced that it is bringing criminal charges ranging from “dissemination of false rumours with the intent of overthrowing the government” to “undermining public trust in the government and attempts at fostering ethnic and religious divisions” against six news weeklies.
In a communiqué released on 5 August, the ministry accused the six weeklies – Lomi, Enqu, Fact, Jano, Addis Guday and Afro-Times – of “encouraging terrorism, endangering national security, repeated incitement of ethnic and religious hate, and smears against officials and public institutions.”
Two of the weeklies, Addis Guday and Fact, are among Ethiopia’s leading privately-owned newspapers and have often covered events or published stories that have generated political controversy. One of Addis Guday’s journalists, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, has been held on a terrorism charge since 25 April.
The ministry said it had been “patient” with the six weeklies but had finally decided to bring charges in response to public pressure for corrective action. It also warned that it was ready to bring charges against other publications engaging in similar “subversive” activity.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s government must end the harassment of independent media that it has been orchestrating for the past few months,” said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
With the 10 journalists and bloggers already accused of terrorism and now this prosecution threat, the government is sending a much tougher message to news providers. Prosecuting journalists for ‘undermining public trust in the government’ is totally illegitimate.
Ethiopia is ranked 143rd out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. 
(photo : Ethiopian Justice minister, Getachew Ambaye)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Ethiopian bloggers’ trial adjourned till 20th of August -


Ethiopian bloggers’ trial adjourned till 20th of August

The trial of six bloggers from Ethiopian blog Zone 9  and three journalist were due to get underway today, but shortly after court proceeding started it was adjourned to the 20th of August.
While no reason for the adjournment was given, the news was communicated through Zone 9’s twitter account early Monday morning.

The nine writers have been charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law, for posting blog articles about the state of the East African nation and on topics such as human rights. At the end of July they have been in custody for over three months.
One of the arrested bloggers, Natnael Feleke, posted various articles on political freedom in Ethiopia. “In his introduction Natnael has painted the level of fear the country has been experiencing. He gave instances of this fear culture that engulfed Ethiopia. He highlighted why freedom and bread are a contested issues in Ethiopian politics. He provocatively asked which (bread or freedom) should be prioritized,” Ethiopian blog Trial Trackers  explained from the translated text.
The articles were written in Ethiopia’s native Amharic  language.
In another blog entry called ‘Journalism or manufacturing consent’ blogger Endalkachew H took on journalism, which the country tries to control.
“It is a piece which criticize the developmental journalism practiced by state media.  The writer argues state media journalism is used to manufacture consent,” added Trial Trackers.
In late July 40 international organisations penned an open letter demanding from Ethiopian prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn the release of Zone 9 bloggers from custody.
The letter accuses the Ethiopian government of mistreating the bloggers. “All nine detainees were subsequently held for nearly three months before any specific allegations were presented or formal charges filed against them. Most concerning, however, are reports that some of the detainees have complained of serious mistreatment by investigators and that defence lawyers and their clients have been excluded from some of the proceedings,” the letter reads.
[Image - CC by 2.0/Luigi Caterino ]