ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) -- Suppression of media freedom by Ethiopia's government is curtailing democratic space ahead of elections in May, a rights advocacy group said Thursday.
Six independent print publications were closed in 2014 after a lengthy campaign of intimidation that included documentaries on state-run television that alleged the publications were linked to terrorist groups, Human Rights Watch said in a report.
The report said intimidation also included harassment and threats against staff, pressure on printers and distributors, regulatory delays, and eventually criminal charges against the editors. It says dozens of staff members went into exile, at least 22 journalists, bloggers, and publishers were criminally charged, and more than 30 journalists fled the country in fear of being arrested under repressive laws in the past year.
The plight of a few high-profile Ethiopian journalists is known, though dozens more in Addis Ababa and in rural regions continue to suffer systematic abuses at the hands of security officials, according to the report.
Getachew Reda, a special adviser to the Ethiopian prime minister, denied that journalists are being persecuted for doing their work.
"One could be a nun or a journalist but we treat them equally. They will not face charges as long as they don't contravene the law. I know a number of journalists who couldn't succeed in their work so they fled to Kenya and began blaming the government," Getachew said.
He also criticized Human Rights Watch saying it's "an organization that makes a living out of criticizing Ethiopia."
Human Rights Watch says it interviewed 70 current and exiled journalists between May 2013 and December 2014 for the report and found patterns of government abuses against journalists that resulted in 19 being imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression, and that have forced at least 60 others into exile since 2010
The Judiciary has shown little or no independence in criminal cases against journalists who have been convicted often on terrorism-related charges, the group said.