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Country Reports

Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press 2017



Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
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Freedom of the Press Scores

(0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Internet Penetration Rate: 

Key Developments in 2016:

  • In October, in response to ongoing antigovernment protests, the authorities enacted a state of emergency that allowed them to restrict internet access and social media use and designate two television channels run by Ethiopians abroad as terrorist organizations, among other repressive measures.
  • The Addis Standard magazine halted publication of its print edition, citing restrictions linked to the state of emergency.
  • Ethiopia was the second-worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which counted 16 journalists behind bars as of December.
  • Authorities continued to restrict free movement and reporting outside Addis Ababa. In August, three journalists, including two from the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), were detained while reporting on a severe drought from the town of Shashamene and escorted back to the capital, where they were ordered to remain.

Executive Summary

Ethiopia’s media environment is one of the most restrictive in sub-Saharan Africa. The government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn continues to use the country’s harsh antiterrorism law and other legal measures to silence critical journalists and bloggers. As of December 2016, Ethiopia was detaining 16 journalists, making it the fifth-worst jailer of journalists in the world and the second-worst in sub-Saharan Africa, after Eritrea. In addition to the use of harsh laws, the government employs a variety of other strategies to maintain a stranglehold on the flow of information, including outright censorship of newspapers and the internet, arbitrary detention and intimidation of journalists and online writers, and heavy taxation on the publishing process.

In 2016, Ethiopia was racked by antigovernment protests, which primarily took place in the Oromia and Amhara regions; more than 800 people were killed in the government’s disproportionate response, according to some estimates, and thousands more were detained. As protests continued, authorities in October imposed a severely restrictive state of emergency that banned many forms of speech. Among other actions taken under the state of emergency, the government prohibited the use of social media to share information about the situation, designated two important diaspora television channels as terrorist organizations, and banned political parties from issuing any press statements that authorities deemed incendiary. A number of reporters were swept up in the mass detentions that followed the emergency declaration. The state of emergency significantly limited independent journalists’ activities and contributed to a pervasive atmosphere of self-censorship, allowing state-run and government-friendly private outlets to fill the resulting information vacuum.

Journalists also continued to face repercussions for reporting on previous years’ protests. In March, Solomon Kebede, managing editor of the now-defunct publication Ye Muslimoch Guday, finally received a prison sentence after being detained since January 2013 on terrorism charges linked to coverage of 2012 protests by the Muslim community. He was reportedly released in April 2016. Two journalists with Radio Bilal who had also reported on the Muslim protests—Khalid Mohammed and Darsema Sori—were convicted on terrorism charges in December 2016, but had not been sentenced by year’s end. They had been in detention since early 2015.


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