Ethiopian journalist on fear of returning to prison [Andrew Harding - BBC]

Journalsit Tesfalem Waldyes
“I’m still scared that I might go back to prison” says journalist Tesfalem Waldyes

It’s never an easy decision: Should I interview someone who wants to talk in public, but who knows that a word out of line could mean arrest and imprisonment?

I’ve wrestled with the issue before in Myanmar, also known as Burma, Zimbabwe, Iraq and elsewhere.

Ethiopian journalist Tesfalem Waldyes sat in a hotel in Addis Ababa last weekend, and decided it was necessary to speak out.

“I’m afraid. I’m still scared that I might go back to prison… Maybe today, maybe this afternoon.

“[Journalism here] is a very dangerous job, because there’s this red line that was marked by the government, and we don’t know when we crossed that red line,” he said.

‘Totally absurd’

Last week Mr Tesfalem was unexpectedly released from a remand prison outside the capital, along with four colleagues.

He and eight other bloggers and journalists had been imprisoned for well over a year, facing trial under Ethiopian anti-terrorism legislation – accused of working with forces seeking to overthrow the state.

“It’s totally absurd…. Our work has appeared in newspapers, magazines.

Four journalists are still in prison in Ethiopia

“We are only doing our jobs,” he said, declining to speculate on whether the timing of his release was linked to a big UN development summit being hosted in Ethiopia this week, or President Barack Obama’s visit later in the month.

Mr Tesfalem said he did not want to talk about prison conditions, for fear of provoking Ethiopia’s government, but he was motivated to speak out on behalf of the four journalists still in detention.

“I beg all the international community, all concerned people… to push, to keep pushing… for the release of our friends.

“The charges are very similar. There is no difference between me and those guys who are still languishing in prison,” he said.

Ethiopia is a de facto one party state, after the governing EPRDF won every parliamentary seat in May’s election.

Although it has presided over extraordinary economic growth, and a rapid reduction in extreme poverty and child mortality in the past decade, it is regularly criticised for human rights abuses, and is often ranked as one the world’s “most censored” countries.

Filed in: Current Affairs / News