Saturday, July 25, 2015

Ethiopia: Obama's Visit to Ethiopia Must Extend Relationship Beyond Security and Business

Rights activists and press freedom advocates are pushing US President Barack Obama to raise concerns over political space, press freedom and human rights in Ethiopia, ahead of his trip to Addis Ababa this weekend. Obama is expected to arrive on Sunday in his first visit to Ethiopia, which the White House says will help "accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions and improve security".
"The president should insist and give a talk about the press freedom situation in the country," Endalk Chala, a co-founder of the Zone 9 group of Ethiopian bloggers, told RFI. His group has been critical of Ethiopia's human rights records and governance.
"There are a lot of journalists in prison now," says Chala, who explains that two Zone 9 bloggers have been recently released from jail. Although he believes their release is perhaps a goodwill gesture ahead of Obama's visit, four of the group's members remain behind bars on terrorism charges.
Ethiopia is the second-worst jailer of journalists in Africa, after Eritrea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In its 2015 report, press freedom group Freedom House ranked Ethiopia's press status as "not free", giving it 83 out of 100, with 100 representing the worst.
Besides non-existent press freedom, Ethiopia's political space remains limited. In May's parliamentary election the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took 100 per cent of the seats.
There are also crackdowns on political protests. Ethiopian security forces reportedly used live ammunition earlier this year at a student demonstration against extending the boundaries of the capital Addis Ababa.
"I think that the concerns about human rights in Ethiopia and the deteriorating human rights situation, that we and others have mapped over the last decade, has received short shrift," Leslie Lefhow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, told RFI.

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