June 18th is 7 months in prison for Dessu Dulla. Ethiopian journalists from the Oromia News Network (ONN) have been accused of anti-state activities. If convicted, he could face life imprisonment, or even the death penalty.
For Dess, who went into exile in Europe in 2018, what seemed like a period of reform at the time was a radical change.
He started working at ONN, where he hosted the weekly show "Under the Shadow of Democracy" to investigate the threats of Ethiopia and its Oromia region.
"I thought it was another era and democracy and freedom of speech might be restored," Desstold Reutersbefore being arrested last November. Told. But "actually things are getting worse. So many journalists have fled the country and some have been put in jail."
Dessu is one of more than 20 journalists currently in Ethiopian prisons. Most reported conflicts in the Tigray, Oromia and Amhara regions of Ethiopia.
Authorities state that their actions are designed to prevent the spread of disinformation and anti-state activities. However, rights groups and journalists say Ethiopia is using legal means to silence critics and dissidents. Tsedale Lemma, the founder of the
newspaperAddisStandard, said the arrest of journalists, many of whom were pro-government during the Tigray War, would send a broad message to the media across the country. ..
"It's that effect that's really echoing throughout Ethiopia's media room," he added, "because we don't know what the government will oppose this time around, it creates challenges." rice field. ..
In the case of Dessu, he and his ONN colleague Bikila Amenu include 15 members and supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) party. Included in. He was accused of attempting to overthrow the government.
The court in April charged journalists under a law prohibiting "anger against the Constitution".
Authorities say journalists' news coverage was sympathetic to the OLF.
Their lawyer, Milkiyas Bulcha, told VOA Amharic Service that Dessu and others were not given a fair opportunity to protect themselves.
"Prosecutors are narrowing the defendants' right to protection. They do not meet the standards required by law," he said.
Therefore, Milkyas said, "They should be released from prison without preconditions."
Advocates use anti-terrorism and other laws to silence media and political opponents, Abiy Ahmed Angela Kintal, Africa Program Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told VOA that the Prime Minister must end if he is alive. She said the CPJ "wants to release all journalists currently behind the bars in Ethiopia and hopes that the government will end the persecution of independent media outlets."
However, Ethiopian authorities say they are working on disinformation to prevent polarization and ethnic division.
Prime Minister's Office spokesman Billene Seyoum protests a series of her recent arrests at a press conferenceon June 6When mentioning, she said: Who isn't?
As far as the media authorities know, she said, "many of these under the journalist flag are uncertified or unlicensed."
A spokesman said that controlling or controlling the growth of explosive rhetoric, especially online, requires strong legislation to curb hate speech and disinformation.
That's "problematic," Bi llene said, "if everyone with a YouTube channel is considered a journalist and there is no way to regulate their remarks." But
Kintal said legal action against the media has led the country to a dark path.
"Ethiopia is once again one of the worst journalist prisoners in Africa, with legitimate procedures and law. If the rules have been violated many times, "she told VOA. She said, "The alarming decline in press freedom we have witnessed, especially since the beginning of the war in Tigray."
Abby released all imprisoned journalists and accessed blocked news websites.
In 2019, the United Nations held a Freedom of the Press Conference in the capital, Addis Ababa, to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. Abby won the Nobel Peace Prize that same year.
But by 2021, the war in Tigray had begun. By the way, Abby shows less tolerance for reports that challenge critical or government actions, and reports that authorities equate with false or biased news.
In a speech to lawmakers on Tuesday, Abby said, "Let's not appoint individuals involved in the destruction of state institutions as'activists'and'journalist'." "
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)states that theconflict has wiped out most of the press freedom gains brought about by Ethiopia in recent years.
"Since the beginning of the civil war, the government has made decisive efforts to rule the story," RSF said. Watchdog ranks Ethiopia 114th out of 180 countries in its annual Press Freedom Index.
Vincent Makori of VOA English to Africa Service and Nakar Melka of Amharic Service Reporter of VOA Horn of Africa contributed to this report.