By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
June 14, 2012(ADDIS ABABA) - A press freedom watchdog, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Africa Media Initiative (AMI) jointly called on Ethiopian authorities to release journalists who are being held in the East African country.
A delegation from both CPJ and AMI last week held discussions with Bereket Simon, Ethiopian Minister at the government communication Affairs Office, where the groups addressed their concerns on what they said was a worrying situation of press freedom.
The groups express concern on safety of journalists mentioning the continuing prosecutions of journalists under the country’s controversial anti-terrorism proclamation.
Since endorsed in 2009, international rights groups and activists have been protesting against Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism proclamation arguing the law is vague, broadly defined and intended to punish critical journalists.
The law allows Ethiopian authorities to imprison a journalist for lengthy term if found cooperating or for reporting news that backs up the movement of some groups blacklisted by government as terrorist entities, such as the armed groups of Ogaden National Liberation front (ONLF) and Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
CPJ says Addis Ababa is currently holding three Ethiopian journalists and two Swedish journalists on charges of anti-government plots and terrorism. All the journalists have denied involvement.
Following the meeting, CPJ and AMI representatives stressed a need for Ethiopia to review these laws as they stifle press freedom and freedom of speech.
However, Ethiopia’s communication Minister Bereket Simon argued that the law isn’t intended to attack press freedom or endanger the safety of journalists.
"We in the government so far have not invoked this anti-terrorism law against any individual journalist," Simon said.
"It’s not an instrument for censorship, for stifling dissent, or for attacking press freedom; it is an instrument that ultimately shall be used to protect Ethiopians enjoying their constitutional rights," he added.
When asked whether the law intimidates journalists into silence, Simon said that "If there are problems in implementation of any law, the government is ready to sit down and review."
According to CPJ research, the Horn of Africa country is holding at least seven journalists behind bars, making it continent’s foremost jailer of journalists after neighbouring Eritrea.
Last week, Reporters Without Borders accused Ethiopia of further intensifying press and internet censorship by what the group alleged was using a sophisticated technology, the Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) - an advanced network filtering used to selective blocking websites.
It also accused the country’s state-owned printing presses of trying to impose political censorship on media content prior to publication.