Nowhere across Africa is the message that its people want a way out of what I call “the four Ds” – death, disease, disaster and despair – more resounding than among the continent’s journalists.
In nation after nation, they are attempting to inform their people of their rights and encourage them to hold their governments accountable. For that, many of them are being held accountable in the most draconian ways.
I have seen this first hand in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe’s regime has long attempted to conceal the repression of its people. Journalists have fought back and continue to yell truth to power, although they still face the prospect of jail as a consequence.
And most recently, I have seen it in Ethiopia, where Eskinder Nega, a journalist I visited seven years ago in Kalati Prison, along with his pregnant wife, Serkalem Fasil (who gave birth in prison) is back there on charges of terrorism. What appears to have been his crime is that he also continues to tell, if not yell, truth to power, although the government is actually prosecuting him for what they say is his membership in a terrorist network that advocates violence. As proof, during his trial they showed a video in which he questioned whether an Arab Spring-type uprising could ever happen in Ethiopia.
The government has empowered itself to prosecute what they see as dissent like this with a sweeping anti-terrorism law that is, effectively, a weapon that can be used against anyone daring to criticize the government in a way the government doesn’t like.
One journalist who published Eskinder’s statement in court was also convicted, but got a suspended four-month sentence. Dozens of journalists have fled into exile and six have been charged with terrorism in absentia, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
When I visited Ethiopia earlier this month with a colleague from the CPJ and the continent-wide project called the African Media Initiative, journalists we met with told us they all live in fear, calling the terrorism law a “game changer.” One foreigner working in Ethiopia told me: “There is a red line. The problem is, we don’t know where it is.” Read more…