Addis Ababa — An international press freedom watchdog on Tuesday accused the Ethiopian government of escalating a crackdown against journalists under the pretext of anti-terrorism.
The New York-based, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the Horn of Africa's nation is using its broadly defined anti-terrorism laws to punish to the country's few journalists who are critical of the government.
According to CPJ research, Ethiopian authorities during the past five months have detained six foreign and local journalists under the country's anti-terrorism legislation.
"Since June, government authorities have arrested six independent journalists on alleged terrorism charges including Awramba Times Deputy Editor Woubshet Taye, Feteh columnist Reyot Alemu, freelance journalists Eskinder Nega and Sileshi Hagos and two Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye", CPJ said.
CPJ argued that the latest campaigns against the press are aimed to silence critical voices and further condemned what it said was a systematic way of keeping journalists in a state of insecurity and fear.
"This latest outburst by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is part of a systematic campaign to use allegations of terrorism to wipe out critical journalism in Ethiopia. The smear campaign by state media contributes to the climate of fear," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes.
"Through this intimidation of the private press, Ethiopia is sacrificing its legitimacy as a democratic government," he added.
The Ethiopian government argues that it has concrete evidence against the journalists' involvement in terrorist activity.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Thursday told parliament that many journalists in the country are working with "terrorist" groups as "messengers."
Zenawi claimed the government has evidence linking the imprisoned journalists to terrorist acts and is aware of other journalists working in Ethiopia with terrorist ties, local journalists told CPJ.
According to CPJ research, with eight journalists behind bars, Ethiopia is continent's foremost jailer of journalists next to neighboring Eritrea. The study further indicates that Ethiopia's repression of the independent press has also driven into exile the largest number of journalists in the world.