Ethiopia releases two journalists, criticism persists

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JOHANNESBURG, January 26 – Ethiopia has released to jailed journalists, but criticism of that country’s hard line stance against the media and its practitioners continues.

In an article on Thursday co-authored by Muthoki Mumo and Jonathan Rozen both of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) the pair make it clear that the recent release of two incarcerated journalists in Ethiopia “does not signal end to press crackdown”‘.

Radio journalists Darsema Sori and Khalid Mohammed were released from prison on 10 January after serving lengthy sentences related to their work at the Ethiopian faith-based station Radio Bilal.

Darsema, who featured in CPJ’s Free the Press campaign, and Khalid were released after a supreme court ruling late last year reduced their sentences.

Mustefa Shifa Suleyman, who acted as one of their lawyers, was quoted as saying the journalists should have been released on the day of the court ruling, and that the delay was “not appropriate.”

Like all of the journalists jailed in Ethiopia at the time of CPJ’s 2017 prison census, Darsema and Khlaid were held on anti-state charges.

At least three other journalists remain in prison: Zelalem Workagegnehu is serving a five-year, four-month sentence, and Woubshet Taye and Eskinder Nega are serving 14 and 18 years respectively for their journalism, according to CPJ research.

“Even those journalists freed pending the outcome of a trial face frustrations from arbitrary court delays,” the article said.

Befekadu Hailu, a member of the Zone 9 blogging collective who was previously jailed for his journalism with eight of his colleagues in 2014, is still waiting for a final verdict on the matter.

Yared Hailemariam, executive director of the Swiss-based Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, said the government had not indicated if jailed journalists were included among those to be freed under a decree by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Earlier this month he promised to free political prisoners.

Befekadu reportedly said that releasing political prisoners is only part of the wide-ranging reforms needed to make Ethiopia a friendlier environment for dissenting voices, a sentiment echoed by Human Rights Watch.

Befekadu and Yared both believe that the government should urgently review the anti-terror proclamation of 2009, which has been used to silence dissenting voices and to persecute critical journalists.

Last week the United Nations human rights spokesperson, Liz Throssell also called on Ethiopia to amend anti-terror legislation in line with international standards, and to revise laws that restrict the media.

– African News Agency (ANA)