New freedoms already threatened in a divided country
Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister since 2018, suddenly had to grapple with the major challenges facing his country in 2020. Torn by inter-ethnic conflicts and with a civil war in its northernmost region, Ethiopia is now at a crossroads and the great hopes raised by newly-recovered freedoms, including freedoms for the media, now seem to be hanging by a thread. Within months of Abiy taking office, a new space for freedom of expression had been created by the release of many detained journalists and bloggers and by the decision to restore access to more than 200 news websites and blogs that had been blocked for years. But then the many clashes around the country helped to increase the polarisation of the media landscape, which has not been spared the effects of abusive actions by authorities. In this troubled environment, old bad habits are reemerging. More than ten journalists were arrested in 2020 for often unclear reasons. Some were held incommunicado, without access to a lawyer, often for several weeks. In February 2021, a respected reporter for several foreign media outlets received a visit at her Addis Ababa home from gunmen who threatened her in connection with her coverage of the civil war in the northern Tigray region. Instead of investigating the incident and expressing their support, the authorities tried to discredit her by pointing out that she wasn’t accredited. Access to regions with conflicts has become difficult and Internet cuts are common. Draconian laws that affect the press, including the 2009 terrorism law, which was widely used to detain journalists, have still not been amended. On the contrary, the existing repressive legislative arsenal has even been reinforced by a vaguely-worded law on hate speech and disinformation that provides for heavy fines and prison sentences.
99 in 2020
32.82 in 2020