By David Boyer | for Washington Times,
The White House urged Ethiopian authorities Wednesday to release journalists jailed in the African nation’s latest crackdown on the press under the pretext of using anti-terrorism laws.
National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the White House is “deeply concerned” about the arrests, saying the “continued stifling of independent voices will only inhibit” the country’s social progress and economic growth.
“We urge the Ethiopian government to release journalists and all others imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression, to refrain from using its anti-terrorism proclamation as a mechanism to silence dissent, and to protect the rights of journalists, bloggers, and dissidents to write and speak freely as voices of a diverse nation,” Mr. Price said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Ethiopian authorities arrested two journalists in the span of one week. Getachew Shiferaw, editor of the Negere Ethiopia online newspaper, was arrested on Dec. 25, following the Dec. 19 detention of Fikadu Mirkana, an anchor at state-run broadcaster Oromia Radio and TV.
An Ethiopian court granted permission to hold Mr. Shiferaw for 28 days for interrogation, after which he is likely to be charged under the nation’s anti-terrorism law, CPJ said. The rules criminalize reporting that authorities consider encouraging to causes or groups the government labels as terrorist.
President Obama visited Ethiopia in July and shocked some human-rights watchdogs by referring to the government as “democratically elected.” The ruling party of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and its allies won 100 percent of seats in parliament last spring, and the opposition alleged the government had used authoritarian tactics to win the election.
The White House on Wednesday voiced concern about the arrest of journalists in Ethiopia and urged that country’s government to release people imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression.
While the United States had welcomed the release of several detained bloggers in Ethiopia earlier this year, National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement, “we are deeply concerned by the recent arrests of other journalists.”
He did not give details about the recently arrested journalists.
On a visit to Ethiopia in July, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a speech at the African Union in Addis Ababa that Ethiopia “cannot unleash the full potential of its people” if it jails journalists and restricts legitimate opposition groups.
An Ethiopian opposition party leader said on Friday police had arrested two of its senior members on suspicion of inciting weeks of protests against government plans to set up a new economic zone near the capital that would displace farmers.
“We urge the Ethiopian Government to release journalists and all others imprisoned for exercising their right to free expression, to refrain from using its Anti-Terrorism Proclamation as a mechanism to silence dissent,” Price said.