As the world marks the UNESCO-adopted World Press Freedom Day today, May 3, 2013, activists of press freedom in the Horn of Africa highlight how the increasingly oppressive and draconian press laws in Ethiopia have led not only to the imprisonments and exiling of scores of Oromo journalists, but also to the wiping out of the Afan Oromo mass media serving the Oromo people in the Horn of African region.
The Oromo people make up the largest nation in the Horn of Africa, and their language, Afan Oromo, is the third largest language with most speakers in Africa. Despite this, there is no independent Afan Oromo media outlet operating in Oromia, the homeland of the Oromo, due to the hostile policies of the Ethiopian government towards Afan Oromo mass media, in addition to the already repressive media laws that have made independent journalism a risky career choice.
Journalists – Extinct in Oromia
Over the last two decades, countless Oromo journalists have been harassed, imprisoned and/or exiled by the TPLF-led Ethiopian regime, and even those Oromo journalists in the state-owned media outlets have not been spared from these human rights violations. To name a few of the imprisoned and/or exiled journalists: Lelisa Wodajo, Dhabesa Wakjira and Shiferraw Insermu of the state-owned ETV; Eyob Bayisa and Israel Seboka of Seife-Nebelbal newspaper; Tesfaye Deressa, Solomon Nemera and Garoma Bekele of Urjii newspaper; and Nuhamin Bikila of ETV, and later VOA.
Mass Media – Extinct in Oromia
The last surviving Afan Oromo independent newspapers, Jimma Times/Yeroo and Urjii, have been closed down for more than five years, with no sign of another publication replacing them. And, the Afan Oromo shortwave radios, such as VOA and SBO – which are broadcast to Oromia from outside, are under constant threat of jamming by the Ethiopian regime. What’s more, Diaspora-based Oromo news and opinion websites are blocked in Oromia, and Internet surfing is highly monitored as a recent report by Citizen Lab revealed.
In short, it’s not just journalists in prison or in exile, the mass media are under arrest in Oromia. It needs intervention from all sectors of the Oromo society to end this era of darkness in Oromia.