Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Unsung Journalists of Ethiopian Gov't Media

Ethiopia's unsung prisoner
of conscious
Ethiopia is known for all bad reasons. Thanks to our late “visionary” and “democratic” leader, it's the second journalists jailer nation in Africa next to neighboring country Eritrea and it is in the top-list of those countries which forced their journalists into exile over the last decade. It is also known for other “good” reasons like its imprisoned or “freed” journalists are being honored by international advocacy groups; Reeyot Alemu an Ethiopian columnist sentenced to 11 years last July for the “terrorism” charges by Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), is among four of the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF) 2012's Courage to Write award winners. Serkalem Fasil; another IWMF-2007 winner; who gave birth while in custody in 2005 and the wife of the prominent journalist/dissident blogger Eskinder Nega who was sentenced to 18 years jail term last July accused of terrorism charges and treason; received on her husband's behalf Pen-American writers' Foundation for 2012. I really appreciate such gestures given by these advocacy groups to acknowledge the plights of Ethiopian journalists but every time I read
these kinds of news, I can't help but ask myself, are only journalists of the private media being attacked by Ethiopian regime?
Silence by rights' groups but why?
How many of you heard names like Shifferaw Inesarmu, Lelisse Wodajo, Dhabassa Wakijira, Haileyesus Worku, Abdulsemed Mohammed and many others who worked for the Ethiopian government media but also were and in some cases still are victims of the crackdown on the press? My wildest guess will be, none. It is quite disheartening many of the international freedom to write groups treat these two groups differently provided both are victims of a very repressive regime which uses the law to legitimize its atrocious crimes against innocent citizens be its own employees or others employed by the private media. The names of Lelisse Wodajo & Shiffawra Insearmu, two former journalists of the Oromiffa service of Ethiopian Television who were jailed in 2005 and 2008 respectively for allegedly passing information to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), aren't mentioned by these rights' groups in their latest reports.    
I'm sure the imprisonment of these two individuals is no secret but I don't know whether or not these advocacy groups are silent about these victims; maybe because they might be carried away by the misconception of the general public that if one works for the government media, he/she is a subservient mouthpiece who never tries to criticize so therefore he/she is immune to harassment, imprisonment and other human-rights violations by the government.
I'm one of the “luckiest” ones of this group of government employed journalists, who left Ethiopia 8 years ago. Well, let me take you to Lelisse Wodajo, one of the faceless and nameless victim who had been working for the government media.

Three kids: mom in jail, dad forced to exile
My former colleague Lelisse Wodajo, mother of three, was arrested on November 14, 2008 for allegedly having contacts with the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and was sentenced, to 10 years jail term without parole on March 31, 2010. Her husband, Dhabessa Wakjira, had also been imprisoned for more than three years since 2004 and went to exile, after being released. Some of my informants told me that the appeal which Wodajo made recently to the supreme court was denied and sadly nobody is making noise or cares to talk about the three kids who are forced to fend for themselves, leave alone to honor their courageous parents who are as much victims as Eskinder Nega , Reeyot Alemu and many other journalists from the private Ethiopian press.

Shifferaw Inesarmu is missing
He is another ex-colleague of mine who was jailed with Wodajo's husband Dhabassa Wakijira in late April 2004 and is missing since he was re-arrested on 11th of January 2005, after being released and re-arrested several times. Based on local newspaper reports, both journalists were held in darkened rooms and they were allegedly tortured. I Googled about him and asked the two Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbiye, to find out about Inesarmu; but sadly, nobody knows his recent whereabouts. Well again, he was after all working for the government media and that's why neither local and international rights groups nor the donor communities are interested to question his jailers where they put him. One doesn't have to be a prominent journalist to be arrested in present day Ethiopia; anybody who has an opinion (political or/and religious) other than the TPLF junta authorizes will be behind bars, that's the eye witness accounts of the two imprisoned Swedish journalists who were “pardoned” at the eve of the Ethiopian New Year.

The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) is a political organization established in 1973 by Oromo nationalists to lead the national liberation struggle of the Oromo people against the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) colonial rule.

The Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF), known more commonly and sometimes as Woyane or Weyane "Popular revolution (for) the freedom of Tigray") is a political party in Tigray, Ethiopia. At the last legislativeelections, the party was the main part of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, that claimed 499 out of 547 seats.

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