The United Nations human rights chief today condemned the crackdown on journalists in Ethiopia and the increasing restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression in the Horn of Africa nation.
The comments by High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay follow the recent arrest and detention of six members of the blogging collective Zone Nine and three journalists in the capital, Addis Ababa.
“I am deeply concerned by this recent wave of arrests and the increasing climate of intimidation against journalists and bloggers prevailing in Ethiopia,” she stated in a news release.
The nine people arrested last week remain in custody. On 27 April, they appeared before the Arada Court of First Instance. Although the exact charges against each of them remain unclear, the UN human rights office has received information that they were arrested for “working with foreign human rights organizations and inciting violence through social media to create instability in the country.”
They reportedly are being held incommunicado and some of their family members who tried to bring them food over the weekend were denied access.
Since January 2012, a number of journalists have been convicted under the Anti-terrorism Proclamation to sentences ranging from 5 years to life imprisonment. Two journalists arrested in July 2012 and January 2013 under the same law are currently in detention, awaiting their trial.
“The fight against terrorism cannot serve as an excuse to intimidate and silence journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and members of civil society organizations. And working with foreign human rights organisations cannot be considered a crime,” said the High Commissioner.
“Over the past few years, the space for dissenting voices has been shrinking dramatically in Ethiopia,” she added.
Ms. Pillay stressed that in its efforts to combat terrorism, the Ethiopian Government must comply at all times with its human rights obligations under international law. The country is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, both of which guarantee the right to freedom of expression.
The High Commissioner urged the Ethiopian Government to release all bloggers and journalists currently in detention for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression. She also reiterated her appeal for there to be a review of current anti-terrorism and civil society legislation to ensure its conformity with international human rights standards.
The human rights chief’s call comes on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, observed annually on 3 May. The Day is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.