As South Africans return to work following Freedom Day it’s worth remembering that not all countries enjoy the same freedoms we have here. While we enjoyed our long weekend celebrating our rights, the Ethiopian government was rounding up journalists and bloggers without charge.
Six members of blogging collective Zone 9 were arrested, as were three traditional journalists including the prominent journalist Tesfalem Waldyes. The remaining writers for Zone 9 maintain that the blog has “never been a part of any illegal activity”, and that the swoop happened shortly after they began publishing following a seven month hiatus, and that they have been denied access to friends and family.
Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have both condemned the arrests. The CPJ call it “one of the worst crackdowns against free expression in the country”. That’s in a country with a pretty poor record in that respect: it’s ranked 143 in the world for press freedom.
As befits a new media organisation, Zone 9 has taken to Facebook to raise awareness of the arrests and try to persuade US secretary of state John Kerry, who is due to visit the country this week, to raise the subject during talks. According to the White House press office, the US has discussed the issue of press freedom in the past.
“While the secretary is there as part of his trip to Africa, he often raises, at every opportunity, issues surrounding human rights,” said spokesperson Jen Psaki. “Whether it’s media freedoms or equal treatment, freedom of speech, and I expect that will be the case this time as well.”
Kerry himself responded to journalists’ questions on Twitter.
[Image – Ethiopia Spirit Forward]
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) April 28, 2014