The Ethiopian government is one of the most active jailers and intimidators of journalists.
The land-locked nation on the horn of Africa has forced more journalists to flee for their lives and their freedom in the past 10 years than any other country. Journalists are imprisoned in facilities known for their torture of inmates. And, newspapers and radio stations are routinely forced out of business.
Now a seemingly ludicrous, but chilling law has led to charges of terrorism against 10 prominent journalists. Yes, terrorism, with a possible sentence of 10 to 20 years for committing blatant acts of journalism, like interviewing the opposition party, or criticizing the government’s response to a drought.
Several of the Ethiopian journalists charged are working in the U.S., a country that sends about $1 billion to Ethiopia each year in food programs and security. This week, two Ethiopian journalists and a U.S. based blogger were tried in absentia and convicted of terrorism charges. They could face the death penalty.
On Dec. 21 two Swedish journalists were found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison for ‘supporting terrorism’, which added to the international outcry.
I sat down to talk about this with Mohammed Keita, advocacy co-ordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Africa program and a frontline fighter for press freedom on the continent.
It’s important to note that since this conversation, the U.S. has released a statement following the convictions of the Swedish journalists.