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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Retribution makes journalists to hide their identities in Ethiopia

By Qeerransoo Biyyaa
Feb 1, 2007 — The following message is an email message exchanged between an ‘American Journalist in Finfinne, Addis Ababa’ and a Sudan Tribune’s columnist based in Ethiopia, Qeerransoo Biyyaa. The two email conversations are presented one after the other to show the degree of insecurity and lack trust because of an increased government crackdown on journalists’ and ultimately on freedom of expression. This exchange is meant to be viewed within the context of freedom expression and the political instability in Ethiopia. The reason I decided to put this in public is to help remind the complete absence freedom speech in Ethiopia.
American Journalist’s email to Qeerranssoo reads:
I read your article in Sudan Tribune recently about the political situation in Ethiopia. I am a journalist with McClatchy Newspapers, a chain of 32 American newspapers. I am currently in Ethiopia on a reporting trip and would like to speak with you more about the politics of the EPRDF government. Please write back and I will contact you. I will be in the country for a few more days.
Qeerranssoo Biyyaa’s Reply:
Dear ’US Journalist in Addis’, (real name deleted),
Thanks for your interest in meeting me and interviewing me about the current situation in Ethiopia. Nevertheless Ethiopia is not such a free country that I can openly go for a face to face interview with you. I am a professional and critical writer. And what that means to me is life. I do not know you in the first place. You only contacted me by email. What if turns out that you are playing a hoax and by the time I arrive at our appointment time you put me in van and take me to the jail or to my death field. It happened to many journalists. I am bold and full hearted, though. Just to let you know how are. My writing are anonymous if you have observed seriously. And I make no money for what I write. I write for freedom.
I would say it is great to see that you are here to cover our bleak circumstances. But I would like to warn you, if you are a professional journalist, please do not go back only by looking at only the situation in Finfinnee or Addis Ababa. Go deep into Oromia State and find out. Oromia is the biggest and the wealthiest region but you will find no form of publication or platform on which the people can express their voices. No broadcast too, except for one hour of Afan Oromo radio and TV service for government propaganda purposes daily. Even then the time allocation and programming across languages is unbalanced. It reflects the past linguistic and cultural policies of the Empire State of Ethiopia. There is not much difference now.
A lot of things are covered up and it is not easy for a stranger like you to get to the facts at first encounter. Obviously, if you are foreign journalist, EPRDF people will entice you and give you guides that are not correct or guys who take you to a wrong or a relatively milder spot of events. It is you who decides ultimately. Even local people who work for US embassy in Addis are affiliates of the ruling party. And things are much tricky. Recently I have been chatting with a foreign professor who knows the Ethiopian politics so well. And you know what he said to me about Ethiopian politics, "It is insoluble’. That his description of the standoff. I agree with him because I know we do not have any independent institution including the media, army, and editorial board and so on. All the branches of the government, the judiciary, legislative and the executive etc are controlled by the central government. And there is no system of check and balances when it comes to the bicameral parliament-that is mainly rubber stump of EPRDF. So, dear friend be advised not to be the reporter of the Ethiopian government without your knowledge.
Concerning contacting me for a talk about EPRDF, I will not be available for anyone for face to face interview because of fear of being fished. I wanna live a little longer and speak for my people. As an alternative, we can do an email interview if you are interested. Just send me your questions and I will take time and respond to them. Does that work? If not it is a pity that I can’t see you! My grand father taught me to be wise.
Previously I have given an email interview to 2 US based journalists who have quoted it in their articles about the genocide in Ethiopia. You may have a look at it: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=122906A
Wish you all the best :) Qeerransoo Biyyaa (End of Email)
The reasons for the fear on the part of Qeerransoo Biyyaa is because of escalating arbitrary arrest and killings of journalists and people who express views that are critical of the Ethiopian government. Sometimes your identity will be enough reason to put you in jail in Ethiopia. If you are an Oromo journalist and speak the language you are spotted. It does not matter if you are critical or not of the government.
The suppression of freedom of expression is stronger on the Oromo population which constitutes the majority of Ethiopia’s population. Despite their large number the Oromo are disallowed of a media platform on which they can express their views. The government run Ethiopian Television and Radio allocates 1 hour of broadcast each day in Afan Oromo. One hours of programming a day is very disproportionate compared to Oromo population, about 40 million out of the country’s 80 million. In that one hour everyday, the content relayed is government propaganda. Particularly, I appeal to the concerned international organisations pay attention Ethiopian government’s systematic silencing of the Oromo as well as the Southern Ethiopia.
Ps Note: ’ The American Journalist in Addis Ababa’ refers to a name of person who tried to contact me (Qeerransoo Biyyaa) face to face.
* The author can be reached at meettaa@gmail.com

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