Nairobi, August 9, 2012-Ethiopian authorities must release a journalist who has been detained for almost three weeks, and allow three Muslim news outlets to resume publishing immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Local journalists believe the Muslim press in Ethiopia is being targeted for its coverage of protests by the Muslim community.
In recent months, Ethiopian Muslims have begun staging protests on Fridays to oppose government policies they say are interfering with their religious affairs, according to news reports . These protests are a highly sensitive issue for the government, which fears a hardline Islamist influence within the predominantly Christian country, news reports said. Local journalists believe the recent harassment of Muslim journalists and newspapers are part of an attempt by Ethiopian authorities to quell coverage of the ongoing protestsin the capital.
At least eight police officers raided the home of Yusuf Getachew, editor of YeMuslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs), in the evening of July 20 in the capital, Addis Ababa, and took the journalist to the MaekelawiFederal Detention Center, according to local journalists. The police also confiscated four of Yusuf’s mobile phones, his wife’s digital camera, books, and 6,000 birr (US$334), the same sources said.
Yusuf was charged the next day with treason and incitement to violence, but the state prosecutor did not cite any YeMuslimoch Guday articles as evidence, local journalists told CPJ. Yusuf has not been granted family visits, and his defense lawyer saw him for the first time on Wednesday, the journalists said.
Two other YeMuslimoch Guday journalists, Senior Editor Akemel Negash and Copy Editor Isaac Eshetu, have gone into hiding, local journalists told CPJ. The police had the homes of both journalists under surveillance since late July, and had stopped only recently, local journalists said. YeMuslimoch Guday, which had once actively covered the Muslim protests in the capital, has not been published since Yusuf’s arrest, the same sources said.
On July 20, police also raided the offices of the privately owned Horizon printing press in Addis Ababa and confiscated copies of SelefiahandSewtul Islam, two Muslim weeklies, according to news reports. Authorities detained Horizon’s owner overnight, and neither Selefiahnor Sewtul Islam has been published since, according to reports and local journalists. Local journalists told CPJ that the government had ordered the printer to stop publishing the newspapers.
Ethiopian government officials did not immediately return CPJ’s calls for comment.
“Ethiopia has reached a high level of harassment of the press by attempting to censor coverage of the protests,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “The harassment of journalists and news outlets covering protests must stop, and Yusuf Getachew should be released immediately.”
Also in late July, authorities blocked 30,000 copies of the critical weekly Feteh , which contained front-page coverage of the Muslim protests and the health of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, according to CPJ research. The weekly’s printer, the state-run Barhanena Selam, has suspended all further publications of Feteh until further notice, local journalists told CPJ.