Ethiopia Muslim media faces crackdown, arrests as worries heightened

Fedral police attacks moulims at prayer Dessie arebgenda mosque, August 10, 2012

Aug 11, 2012, CAIRO (bikyamasr): Ethiopia’s government is continuing its crackdown on Muslim media workers, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Friday.

They said Ethiopian “authorities must release a journalist who has been detained for almost three weeks, and allow three Muslim news outlets to resume publishing immediately.”

Local journalists believe the Muslim press in Ethiopia is being targeted for its coverage of protests by the Muslim community.

In recent months, Ethiopia’s Muslim community has staged protests on Fridays to oppose government policies they say are “interfering with their religious affairs,” according to news reports.

At least eight police officers raided the home of Yusuf Getachew, editor of YeMuslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs), in the evening of July 20 in the capital, Addis Ababa, and took the journalist to the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center, according to local journalists.

The police also confiscated four of Yusuf’s mobile phones, his wife’s digital camera, books, and 6,000 birr (US$334), the same sources said.

All this comes as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi remains controversially away from public view, not having been seen in nearly two months. Many believe his health situation to be dramatically worse than government officials are saying.

It has heightened worries among the Muslim community in the country, who wonder what life after Zenawi will be like and if they will have greater rights.

“We are looking at this current situation with an opportunity to bring together all segments of Ethiopia together in order to build a better country,” a group of Muslim students, who refer to themselves as “concerned Muslim Ethiopians,” told Bikyamasr.com.

“As Muslims we would like the opportunity to work with Christians and others to help make Ethiopia the country it can be by developing both our culture and politics in a positive way,” the students added.

Over the past two months, there has been a series of violent attacks on Muslims at mosques, which has sparked concern that Islamic conservatism could make way for violent extremism.

But the students have been quick to point out that they have no struggle with the Christian community, arguing instead that it was the government attempting to provoke a violent response.

They said that the situation revolving around Meles’ health needs to be resolved in the near future in order for Ethiopia to move forward.

“We all want a better Ethiopia and our Christian brothers and sisters also feel the same. We are a united country in our belief that justice and freedom can be achieved,” the students said.

Reports across East Africa continue to ask the question: “Where is Meles?” on a daily basis, even as government officials in Ethiopia try to play down his absence, saying the long-time leader is in good condition.

Somaliland Press said, “Dictator Meles Zenawi has disappeared from public view for several weeks now.

“He was last seen in public on June 19 at the G20 Summit in Mexico. His disappearing act has provided more grist for speculation and caused pained and grimaced official obfuscation,” in a report questioning the rulers’ whereabouts and whether he was able to return to his position as prime minister.

Late last week, the Ethiopia government attempted to allay fears or worries that the 57-year-old PM was in poor health.

They called the rumors of Meles Zenawi’s health a “campaign of fabrication.”

In an interview with the state-run Ethiopian Television (ETV), information minister, Bereket Simon, said Zenawi’s health has improved during the past few days following treatment in Europe.

“The Prime Minister’s health is now in much better condition after his treatment” he said adding, “he is taking some rest.”

Simon’s address on state television follows an a broadcast on exiled Ethiopian TV broadcaster ESAT on Monday, claiming Zenawi had died, citing reliable sources in the International Crises Group (ICG).

However, ICG dismissed the claims, saying it has no direct knowledge of Zenawi’s health condition.

Simon said the latest reports are part of opposition “campaigns of fabrications.”

He said “those forces are fabricating speculations about the health of PM Meles to the extent of quoting international organizations like ICG, something the organization denied.”

The last time Zenawi appeared in public during the G20 summit in Mexico in June.

Ethiopian activists continued their online calls for change in the country, with the hope the government will ease its decades long power hold over the country and its political future.

“We definitely are hopeful that this recent episode concerning Meles [Zenawi] and his health will wake up the country that we are the future of Ethiopia,” a student activist in Addis Ababa told Bikyamasr.com on Thursday morning.

“This country has been led by a man who continues to oppress us all, Christians, Muslims and others, so it is time we take our own destiny in our hands,” he added, asking not to be named due to the sensitive nature of referring to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s health.

But government officials have reported that Zenawi is currently in “good condition and recuperating” after he was reportedly gravely ill and on his deathbed.

Newspapers who reported the PM’s health controversy were met with massive crackdowns from the government, highlighting the struggle for freedom of speech in the country.

Simon, the government spokesman, speaking to BBC News, declined to give specific details about Meles’ whereabouts or what he is suffering from.

Simon had earlier been quoted as saying the prime minister, 57, was on holiday.

Zenawi has ruled Ethiopia for more than two decades and many activists in the country have called for his ouster in order to push the country forward.

Speculation began when he missed last month’s African Union summit, held in the Ethiopian capital.

The youth have been the most outspoken towards change in the country.

“It will definitely be interesting to see how we all react,” said one student activist, who asked not to be named due to the security crackdown on those speaking about the PM’s health.

The activist told Bikyamasr.com that “Ethiopia will be better when we are all, Christians and Muslims work together to build a country based not on one group dominating the other, but on the idea that we can have a solid country for all Ethiopians.”

–bikyamasr