We were concerned about continuing restrictions on press
freedoms and freedom of expression in Ethiopia in 2014,
including through use of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP).
Those detained under the ATP include members of opposition
groups, journalists, peaceful protesters, and others seeking to
exercise freedom of assembly or expression.
In July, seven bloggers from the “Zone 9” group and three
journalists were charged under the ATP. The case is ongoing.
In October, the prominent journalist and editor, Temesgen
Dessalegn, was sentenced to three years in prison. He is
appealing his conviction whilst in detention. According to the
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 17 journalists were held
in detention in 2014 – up from seven in 2013, and the fourth
highest number in the world. CPJ also believes that more than
30 journalists fled Ethiopia in 2014. The Ethiopian government
stated that the journalists may return, and that it has no intention
of charging them.
In June, up to twenty journalists from the Oromia Radio and
Television Organisation were dismissed, allegedly in relation to
their critical views on student protests in the region. In August,
five magazines and one newspaper ceased publication following
the government’s decision to charge them under the Criminal
Code in August. Studies by the Open Net Initiative and Freedom
House have shown that access to electronic media is restricted.
Dozens of websites, including international news sites, which
feature critical content or cover sensitive political issues, have
been either intermittently or permanently blocked. Other factors
that work against a free media environment include challenges
for private sector publishers to access affordable and reliable
printing presses, and a lack of professional training for journalists.
We have raised concerns about restrictions on media
freedoms at the highest levels of the Ethiopian government. In
September, at the UN HRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) we
recommended that Ethiopia take concrete steps to ensure that
the 2015 elections are more representative and participative than
those in 2010, including by encouraging open debate among
political parties. Ethiopia accepted this recommendation and we
are waiting to see what action they will take.
The UK also raised these issues regularly at the most senior levels
of the Ethiopian government. We continue to attend trials which
have implications for press freedom, in order to assess whether
they meet international fair trial standards. In May and July, the
EU issued joint statements reiterating the importance of political
space and freedom of expression. The EU called for due process
and respect for human rights regarding the detention of the
“Zone 9” bloggers, journalists, and opposition figures.
Freedom of expression is a core characteristic of any democracy.
The UK believes that a more open environment, in which
press freedoms are protected, will strengthen democratic
accountability and contribute to Ethiopia’s long-term stability.