On 21 January 2015, Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched yet another attack against the Ethiopian Government. It is a well-known fact that HRW has been waging a campaign of vilification against Ethiopia under the guise of a range of issues. This time, the chosen theme was media freedom and the upcoming general elections. In its latest report entitled “Journalism is Not a Crime: Violations of Media Freedom in Ethiopia”, HRW makes unfounded allegations of systematic repression of the independent media.
However, the fact of the matter is that there is no systematic repression of the independent media. It has been over 20 years since censorship was abolished and the content of media reports are left to the media organizations themselves. Indeed anyone who lives in Ethiopia and follows independent media reports can attest to that fact on a daily basis.
The prevailing environment of media freedom in Ethiopia today clearly shows that journalists who behave responsibly operate freely in Ethiopia, since freedom of expression comes with responsibility. The government and the people of Ethiopia are fully aware that the country’s fledgling democracy cannot afford to expose itself to incitement of ethnic and religious hatred. The track record of Ethiopia is very clear where the respect of the constitutional order and the respect of the law is concerned. High government officials have been scrutinised under the law, and whenever they have trespassed against the law of the country they have been prosecuted. What has happened to some of the journalists is no different to what has been applied to government officials.
Being a member of an opposition party or a journalist does not constitute a licence to violate the law of the land. Any action that compromises the integrity of the constitutional order, the law of the land, is a recipe for obstructing the democratic process, a process which continues to gather momentum year on year.
It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that the government will do its level best to guard against any intention by anyone to unleash violence and terrorism by inciting ethnic and religious disturbances. Whenever cases like this arise the government will act in keeping with the relevant laws of the land.
HRW’s intimation of the reasons behind the closure of some of the print media is not correct either. The purpose of the establishment of some these media organizations, was not to participate in the democratic process in the first place, and their closure has more to do with the fact that they cannot survive in an environment of law and order.
HRW’s criticism of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation as well as the Proclamation of Charities and Societies, although nothing new, also misses the point. First of all, Ethiopia is not the only country which has enacted an Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Since its introduction, the proclamation has contributed immensely to fighting terror activities in the country.
The Government of Ethiopia has tried to engage HRW staff to explain the objective reality on the ground and to give them an opportunity to know more about the democratic transformation in Ethiopia. This has not borne fruit as HRW is not interested in the bigger picture – and does not acknowledge the many positive changes that have taken place in Ethiopia.
In closing, it must be noted that the Government of Ethiopia, like any other elected government elsewhere, has the fundamental duty and responsibility of maintaining law and order as well as peace and stability in the country and it will do its level best to discharge that responsibility effectively and efficiently. At the same time however, it must be made clear that Ethiopia will not waver from its original intention of steadfastly building a democratic society and working towards the strengthening of press freedom.
Ethiopia will do this because it believes that it is a necessity for its people, not for the approval, or lack of it, of organizations such as HRW.
The building of a democratic society in Ethiopia is not a luxury, but a necessity in our pursuit of building a vibrant, responsible and united Ethiopia where the equality of all nations and nationalities of Ethiopia are respected.
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