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Journalists warn of clampdown on press freedom in Ethiopia as government bids to control the narrative

JOURNALISTS reported threats and intimidation by Ethiopian forces today as the government tries to control the narrative on its military operation against the restive northern Tigray region.

The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that there has been a worrying deterioration in press freedom in the African nation since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power in April 2018.

The situation has worsened since a government military offensive against Tigray which was launched in November, after the province held elections deemed illegal by the Ethiopian federal government

Tigray has been placed on lockdown, with communications blocked and an internet, mobile-phone and landline blackout. Access to the region has been denied to humanitarian organisations, who warned last week that 10,000 people will starve to death without urgent intervention.

Media have been restricted from investigating reports of ethnic profiling and massacres of civilians, rape, extrajudicial killings and crimes committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers.

Foreign press workers are being portrayed as traitors paid by Western governments to destabilise Ethiopia, while local journalists have been detained and threatened by security services.

The CPJ has called for an independent investigation into the case of Dawit Kebede Araya, a reporter with broadcaster Tigray TV, who was found dead with gunshot wounds to his head in his car near Mekelle, Tigray’s regional capital last month.

CPJ spokesman Muthoki Mumo said:  “The imprisonment of journalists, many of whom were held for weeks without formal charges, are an indicator of the deterioration of press freedom in Ethiopia and a sign that the government is regressing, despite the positive reforms made in 2018 when Abiy became prime minister.

“Ethiopian journalists should feel free to publish critical reports and commentary, and this cannot happen in an environment where police can arrest and hold them for weeks without charge, blatantly weaponising the judicial system to intimidate the media.”

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