Ethiopia frees more imprisoned journalists on the eve of Obama’s historic visit

Ethiopia’s struggles with press freedom are nothing new; these journalists were  protesting in 2006.
Ethiopia’s struggles with press freedom are nothing new; these journalists were protesting in 2006.
Image: AP/Sayyid Azim
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This story has been updated

Ethiopian journalists jailed for more than a year after being accused of attempting to destabilize the state have been released. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) tweeted the news:

The first three were released on Wednesday. On Thursday CPJ said charges against two other journalists had been dropped.

“The release of these five journalists is a welcome turn of events in Ethiopia, where the number of journalists in prison has steadily increased in recent years,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes in a statement.

Tesfalem Waldyes, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, Zelalem Kibret, and six of their colleagues were arrested in April 2014 by Ethiopian authorities for “accepting money and working with foreign organizations and rights activists and using social media to destabilize the country,” a violation of the country’s controversial anti-terrorism law.

CPJ said there are twelve other journalists in prison in the country, making Ethiopia one of the worst places in the world for press freedoms.

Ethiopia also seems to have blocked access to CPJ’s site, at least according to this BBC reporter based in Addis Ababa:

The White House announced in June that president Barack Obama will become the first sitting US leader to visit Ethiopia, as part of a trip to east Africa later this month. However, the administration was quickly criticized by human-rights groups, who say his visit is at odds with “the president’s oft-repeated rhetoric about advancing human rights and strengthening African democracy and institutions.” The release looks like a concession by the regime to smooth the president’s path.

While Ethiopia boasts one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, it nevertheless has an abysmal human-rights record. Freedom House, the watchdog organization, ranks the country as one of the the worst performing in freedom, civil liberties and political rights.