Ethiopian religion reporting imperilled, says World Press Freedom Day

Ethiopian journalists forced into exile in neighbouring countries are crying out for global help, writes Fredrick Nzwili for Ecumenical News International. They say a state crackdown in their country has made it impossible for the independent press to report anything, including religious issues. "We have been robbed of our right as free journalists," Wondwosen Teklu, an Ethiopian journalist exiled in Kenya told a media conference in Nairobi on 2 May 2006, the day before ‘World Press Freedom Day’. They continued: "We would like to tell the world about the horrible conditions of journalists in our country." Paris-based organisation Reporters Without Borders said in an annual report released for World Press Freedom Day that overall, the Middle East was the most dangerous region, and governments such as those in Libya, Iran, Tunisia, Syria and Saudi Arabia "exert absolute control over information". Since the start of 2006, 16 journalists and six co-workers have been killed worldwide, the report said. More than 120 journalists and another 56 "cyber-dissidents" remain behind bars. "The biggest prisons on the planet didn't change much: China, Cuba, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran and Burma," the report said. Ethiopia is a largely Muslim country of 75 million people of whom about 40 per cent are Orthodox Christians. It held a national election on 15 May 2005 which was found by international observers to have been seriously flawed. Since the election, there have been arrests, protests and even deaths. "It is perilous to publish anything - even religious issues," said Yidnekachew Chane, an exiled Ethiopian journalist living in Kenya. Since October 2005, 63 journalists have been charged. Sixteen of them, including a female journalist, six months pregnant, remain in jail, facing sentences that can carry the death penalty, members of the Ethiopian Free Press Association said. More than 20 other journalists have been forced into exile and more than 200 have been jailed in the last 14 years. "We demand the unconditional release of all the jailed journalists," Elias Lemma who worked for the Maebel Weekly Newspaper before being forced to exile in Kenya four years ago told Ecumenical News International. The journalists say they live under constant fear of being kidnapped by Ethiopian secret agents, and deported as has happened with some political activists and refugees.

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