Category: Press Releases, Africa, Ethiopia
By: Grayson Harbour, IPI

Six Ethiopian publications face criminal charges

Magazines, newspaper accused of ‘incitement’, disseminating ‘false rumours’

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn speaks during the resumption of South Sudan negotiations in Addis Ababa on Feb. 11, 2014. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By: Grayson Harbour, IPI

VIENNA, Aug 7, 2014 – The Ethiopian government announced on Monday that it has filed criminal charges against five of the country’s largest-selling magazines and an affiliated newspaper, local media reported.

The Ministry of Justice said in a statement that the six periodicals and their publishers face charges due to “repeated acts of incitement and dissemination of false rumors intended to cause a violent overthrow of the constitutional order and to undermine the public trust of the government”, according to Horn Affairs.

The five magazines facing charges include Addis Guday, Lomi, Enque, Fact and Jano. The sixth publication is the newly started Afro-Times newspaper, which is affiliated with Lomi.

The accusations are the latest in a series of press freedom violations by the Ethiopian government in recent months.

Aziza Mohamed, a photojournalist for Addis Guday, was arrested on July 18 and has been held without charge for the past two weeks at the Ethiopian police headquarters in Addis Ababa. Mohamed was covering Muslim protests in the capital at the time of her arrest.

The trial for the 10 Zone Nine defendants, a group of journalists and bloggers charged in late July with terrorism for allegedly trying to overthrow the government, continues. The group was held for three months without charge before being put on trial.

“The charges against these publications appear to be the latest instance in which Ethiopian authorities have abused anti-terror law and other provisions to stifle independent media,” International Press Institute (IPI) Senior Press Freedom Adviser Steven M. Ellis said. “We renew our call for the country to reform its repressive anti-terror law and to free all journalists imprisoned in connection with their work.”

IPI in January issued a report finding that “Ethiopia’s use of sweeping anti-terrorism law to imprison journalists and other legislative restrictions was hindering the development of free and independent media in Africa’s second largest country”. The report followed an IPI press freedom mission to Ethiopia in November 2013.

The Ministry of Justice, in an apparent attempt to justify the charges levelled against the various publications this week, said in its statement: “The decision to lodge criminal charges was taken after several attempts to convince the magazines to change their ways.”

The statement continued: “The government will continue lodging crime charges against other media outlets and publishers.”