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Ethiopia Arrests Second Journalist in a Week

(Bloomberg): Ethiopian authorities arrested two journalists in the span of one week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said, asking the East African nation to allow for greater openness.

Getachew Shiferaw, editor in chief of Negere Ethiopia online newspaper, was arrested on Dec. 25, following the Dec. 19 detention of Fikadu Mirkana, an anchor at state-run broadcaster Oromia Radio and TV.

An Ethiopian court granted permission to hold him for 28 days for interrogation after which he is likely to be charged under the nation’s anti-terrorism law, according to the CPJ. The rules criminalize any reporting that authorities might consider encouraging to causes or groups the government labels as terrorist.

“Ethiopia prides itself on development, but economic growth is a hollow achievement if the public does not enjoy fundamental human rights such as the right to receive and share information and divergent viewpoints,” Sue Valentine, the CPJ’s Africa coordinator, said in an e-mailed statement.

Ethiopia’s police also detained Bekele Gerba, a leading opposition figure from the Oromo ethnic group that’s been protesting against an urban development plan over the last month, according to a government spokesman.

Bekele and three other detained leaders of the Oromo Federalist Congress, or OFC, are suspected of inciting violent demonstrations against the expansion of the capital, Addis Ababa, into Oromia regional state, Communications Minister Getachew Reda said.

Oromo Opposition

“They’re suspected of committing crimes and conspiring to organize mobs to destroy property,” he said by phone from the capital on Thursday.

Security forces killed 82 unarmed Oromo demonstrators during the protests that began last month and spread across Oromia, Ethiopia’s most-populous region that surrounds Addis Ababa, according to the OFC. The government is still collecting information on fatalities and vandalism, Getachew said.

Amnesty International said last October that 5,000 Oromos had been illegally detained for political reasons since 2011. Bekele Gerba was released from prison in April after serving less than three years of an eight-year sentence for working with the banned Oromo Liberation Front.

The arrests on Thursday are part of another widespread crackdown against Oromo political activists and demonstrators, said Merera Gudina, the OFC’s leader. “I think the government is very angry because millions of people are protesting for their rights across Oromia, so they are trying to punish the opposition,” he said by phone from Addis Ababa on Thursday.

CPJ: The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in Ethiopia to release the editor-in-chief of Negere Ethiopia online newspaper, Getachew Shiferaw, who was arrested on Friday, according to news reports.

“Ethiopia prides itself on development, but economic growth is a hollow achievement if the public does not enjoy fundamental human rights such as the right to receive and share information and divergent viewpoints,” CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine said. “Authorities should immediately release Getachew Shiferaw, drop all charges against him, and allow journalists to do their jobs.”

Getachew’s arrest follows the detention on December 19 of Fikadu Mirkana, a news anchor at the state-run broadcaster Oromia Radio and TV, who was arrested at his Addis Ababa home. The arrests come amid protests over a plan by authorities to expand the Ethiopian capital, which campaigners say would displace hundreds of thousands of farmers, according to news reports. Authorities have cracked down on the demonstrators as well as clamping down on critical and independent voices in the press. At least five protestors have been killed and hundreds arrested, according to news reports.

Getachew was arrested by federal police on December 25 while walking to his office in Addis Ababa in the morning, news reports said. He is being held at Maekelawi, the main federal police investigation center, where political detainees have been tortured or ill-treated, according to a 2013 report by Human Rights Watch.

Getachew appeared Saturday in court, where police were granted permission to hold him for 28 days for interrogation, after which he is likely to be charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, news reports said. Ethiopia’s broadly worded anti-terrorism law criminalizes any reporting that authorities deem encouraging to groups and causes the government labels as terrorists, including banned political opposition groups. CPJ wrote a letter to the government expressing its concern shortly after the law was passed in 2009.

Negere Ethiopia is affiliated with the Blue Party, an opposition movement that has campaigned for greater political openness in Ethiopia, news reports said. The newspaper was forced to suspend its print edition a year ago, and now is distributed via social media. The outlet covers political trials, including proceedings against opposition politicians and journalists, co-founder of the Zone 9 blogging collective Soleyana S. Gebremichael told CPJ. It reported on calls by the Blue Party and the Oromo Federalist Party for a public demonstration to be held today, but for which authorities denied permission.

The director general of Ethiopia’s Government Communications Affairs Office, Getachew Reda, did not immediately respond to emailed questions from CPJ.

Separately, authorities in Ethiopia on December 24 summoned five members of the Zone 9 blogging group–Soleyana, Abel Wabella, Natnail Feleke, Atnaf Berhane, and Befekadu Hailu–to appear in court on December 30. The bloggers were acquitted of terrorism charges in October, and the prosecution is appealing their acquittal, Soleyana, who was tried in absentia, told CPJ. Befekadu is still facing charges of “incitement of violence through writing.” The Zone 9 bloggers were honored with CPJ’s 2015 International Press Freedom Award in November.

Ethiopia is the third worst jailer of journalists on the African continent, with at least 10 behind bars on December 1, CPJ’s 2015 prison census shows.

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