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Another Ethiopian journalist arrested

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Ethiopian authorities have arrested Getachew Shiferaw, the Editor-in-Chief of online newspaper Negere Ethiopia, a publication allegedly affiliated to the opposition.

The arrest of Shiferaw on Friday follows that of Fikadu Mirkana, a news anchor at the state-run broadcaster Oromia Radio and TV who was arrested last week.

Media reports indicate that the arrest of the two comes in the wake of protests over a plan by the authorities to expand the Ethiopian city Addis Ababa, which campaigners say will displace hundreds of thousands.

 Getachew Shiferaw
Getachew Shiferaw

According to media reports Negere Ethiopia is affiliated with the Blue Party, an opposition movement that has campaigned for greater political openness in Ethiopia. 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, but for which authorities denied permission.

The arrests have been condemned by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which has called upon the authorities in Ethiopia to release the two journalists.

“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 of Shiferaw. “Authorities should immediately release Getachew Shiferaw, drop all charges against him, and allow journalists to do their jobs,” she added.

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.

Shiferaw was arrested by federal police on December 25 while walking to his office in Addis Ababa in the morning, and 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.

He 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.

Ethiopia’s broadly worded anti-terrorism law passed in 2009 criminalizes any reporting that authorities deem encouraging to groups and causes the government labels as terrorists, including banned political opposition groups.

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 have 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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