August 11, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – An international press freedom group said the way Ethiopian authorities are handling to an ongoing dispute with the country’s Muslim movement will not ease the two-year-long tensions between the government and the Islamic community.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Ethiopian authorities had reacted to recent demonstrations by arresting protesters, community leaders, and independent reporters, and shutting down news outlets.
“Trying to silence independent views and accounts of this national issue will not solve the ongoing dispute and instead will further the sense that the government has something to hide”, said CPJ East Africa consultant Tom Rhodes.
Ethiopian Muslims have intensified demonstrations at different mosques in protest at what they allege is government interference in their religious affairs.
The Ethiopian government denies the allegations and associates the Muslim protests with extremism.
Muslim activists told Sudan Tribune that hundreds of Muslims have been held in detention for weeks without charge for “holding peaceful demonstrations”.
In its latest statement, CPJ further expressed concerns over two Muslim journalists arrested recently after protests in the capital, Addis Ababa.
The New York-based group said Ethiopian security officials had arrested Darsema Sori and Khalid Mohammed, who both work for Radio Bilal, an online radio station which had been giving wider coverage to the Muslim protests.
CPJ alleged that the two journalists remain in detention without charge since they were arrested on 2 August.
“The arrests of Darsema Sori and Khalid Mohammed appear to follow a pattern of Ethiopian authorities cracking down on independent journalists and news outlets involved in disseminating news about the Muslim protests taking place in the country”, said Rhodes.
The latest arrests follow the imprisonment of two journalists from the now-defunct Ye Muslimach Guday (Muslim Affairs) magazine.
Editor-in-chief Yusuf Getachew has been in detention since July 2012, while managing editor Solomon Kebede has also been held in detention since January.
CPJ said the journalists’ detention appeared to be in retaliation for the publication of articles critical of the government’s policy on religious affairs.
According to their colleagues, Getachew and Kebede have been charged under the country’s controversial anti-terrorism law, which has been criticised by human right groups as being vague and broadly defined.
Ye Muslimach Guday has not been published since July 2012 after police raided the Addis Ababa offices of the private Horizon printing press and ordered the publisher to stop printing the magazine.
Many right groups condemn the law, which was introduced in 2009, as a tool designed to punish dissidents and journalists critical of the government.
The Muslim protests which originated in Addis Ababa have now spread to regional cities, with a recent clash in Oromya region’s Kofele district turning violent, leaving at least three policemen dead and injuring seven others.
The Muslim movement is also gaining support from Ethiopian opposition groups and some local armed groups.
There are fears that the ongoing protests could capture the attention of foreign extremists who could then enter the predominantly Christian nation to join the Islamic movement.