Ethiopia makes history by having no journalist behind bars for the first time in decades

Ethiopia makes history by having no journalist behind bars for the first time in decades

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2018 annual prison census there are thirty journalists from five sub-Saharan African countries in jail as at December 1.
Majority of journalists imprisoned globally — 70 per cent — are facing anti-state charges such as belonging to, or aiding, groups deemed by authorities as terrorist organisations.
As of December 1st 2018, not a single journalist was behind bars in Ethiopia, East Africa’s most populous nation, a first in the country’s chequered history of media freedoms.

This is according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2018 annual prison census which shows thirty journalists from five sub-Saharan African countries were in jail as at December 1.

Ethiopia’s neighbour, Eritrea has the highest number of jailed journalists in the sub-Saharan region with 16 journalists behind bars followed by Cameroon where seven journalists are currently locked up, one being Michael Doppa who was charged with defaming soccer star Samuel Etoo.

Other countries in the region where journalists had been jailed by this date are Rwanda (four), DRC (two) and Somalia (one).

Majority of journalists imprisoned globally — 70 per cent — are facing anti-state charges such as belonging to, or aiding, groups deemed by authorities as terrorist organisations.

“The number imprisoned on charges of false news rose to 28 globally, compared to nine just two years ago. Egypt jailed the most journalists on false news charges with 19, followed by Cameroon with four, Rwanda with three, and one each in China and Morocco,” the CPJ said.

“The increase comes amid heightened global rhetoric about fake news, of which US President Donald Trump is the leading voice,”

Ethiopia has long had a reputation as being one of the worst jailers of journalists in the world, at one point it reportedly held as many as 18 reporters at one time in detention.

The government for years oversaw a media environment that restricted access to independent information and analysis.

It shut down newspapers, cut off internet services, banned the use of social media platforms to communicate or document anti-government protests, used sophisticated commercial spyware to target dissidents, and at one point, declared watching opposition, diaspora-run television stations illegal.

The country also used harsh anti-terrorism laws to target bloggers, journalists, and human rights defenders, according to digital advocates.

This is however slowly changing thanks to Ethiopia’s new Prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who is seen by many as a reformer.

Since being coming to power in April 2018, Mr Abiy has engineered major reforms including freeing thousands of political prisoners, unbanning some outlawed groups and making peace with its neighbours such as Eritrea and Somalia.

The CPJ report shows that Turkey, China, and Egypt were responsible for more than half of those jailed around the world for the third year in a row.

“The higher number of prisoners in China — with 47 behind bars — reflects the latest wave of persecution of the Uighur ethnic minority in the Xinjiang region,” states the report.

“At least 10 journalists in China were detained without charges, all of them in Xinjiang, where the United Nations has accused Beijing of mass surveillance and detention of up to a million people without trial.”

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