Ethiopian journalist honored by US sounds alarm on media freedom

AFP , Sunday 12 Mar 2023

An Ethiopian journalist presented an award by the United States has sounded the alarm over media freedom in her country, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to visit.

US First Lady Jill Biden (L) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) pose with Meaza Mohammed (C), from Ethiopia during the 17th annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on March 8, 2023. AFP

Meaza Mohammed, the founder of the online network Roha TV, was honored at the White House on Wednesday on International Women’s Day as part of a group receiving “International Women of Courage” awards.

Introducing her, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Meaza “shares stories of those who are often silenced.”

“Despite three arrests in under one year, she continued to raise her voice, advocating for survivors of gender-based violence and urging accountability for crimes committed against them,” Jean-Pierre said.

In an interview with AFP, Meaza said that authorities also raided her outlet and seized everything from her office.

“This award is a big thing for me — not only for me, but for the women out there in my country,” she said.

“Because in my country, having a media (outlet) or working in (the) press is very dangerous, very difficult.”

Internet platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Telegran and TikTok have been inaccessible in Ethiopia since February 9.

The shutdown came after a dispute within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church led to calls for demonstrations against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The issue was resolved but the sites remain down.

The northern region of Tigray, the scene of an armed conflict with the federal government, was largely deprived of telecommunications for the two-year duration of the war.

Blinken is due in Ethiopia on Wednesday on the highest-level US visit since the war with plans to encourage the peace process.

Meaza came to prominence for her campaign for answers over the kidnapping in late 2019 of a group of students whose fate remains unknown.

The students belong to Ethiopia’s second largest ethnic group, the Amhara, and Meaza has been accused in some quarters of a pro-Amhara tilt in the ethnically diverse nation where questions of identity have become increasingly incendiary.

Speaking to AFP in Washington, Meaza denounced “ethnic cleansing” against the Amhara, who have long held privileged positions in Ethiopia’s economic, political and cultural life.

An Amhara militia known as the Fano has also been accused of numerous abuses.

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