The Ethiopian journalist named in a WikiLeaks cable last month has fled the country after police interrogated hi with the intention of forcing him to disclose his unnamed government source, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York said yesterday.
U.S. diplomatic cables disclosed last month by WikiLeaks referred to the journalist by name. The CPJ says this is the first instance in which a citation in one of the cables has caused direct repercussions for a journalist.
The journalist, Argaw Ashine, told the CPJ that on September 5 and 6, officials from Ethiopia’s Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) summoned him to their offices in the capital, Addis Ababa, with his press accreditation. He was summoned because he had been cited in an October 26, 2009, cable from the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia regarding purported GCAO plans in 2009 to silence the now-defunct Addis Neger, then the country’s leading independent newspaper, local journalists said.
The CPJ reports that on September 8, Ashine was summoned again, this time by police, who interrogated him and gave him 24 hours to either reveal the identity of his source at the GCAO office or face unspecified consequences. Ashine fled Ethiopia over the weekend. He has requested that his current location not be disclosed for safety reasons.
“The threat we sought to avert through redactions of initial WikiLeaks cables has now become real. A citation in one of these cables can easily provide repressive governments with the perfect opportunity to persecute or punish journalists and activists,” said CPJ executive director Joel Simon. “WikiLeaks must take responsibility for its actions and do whatever it can to reduce the risk to journalists named in its cables. It must put in place systems to ensure that such disclosures do not reoccur.”
The 2009 U.S. embassy cable, written by former information officer Michael Gonzalez, reports Ashine citing an official source from GCAO as saying that authorities “had drawn up a list” of six top Addis Neger journalists “who they plan to target in order to silence the newspaper’s analysis.” Ethiopian officials have consistently denied any plans to censor Addis Neger, according to news reports.
Addis Neger’s editors ceased publication and fled the country in late November 2009, citing fears of being silenced or prosecuted under a far-reaching anti-terrorism law, local journalists said. Columns in the state daily Addis Zemen also labeled Addis Neger’s coverage as antistate, according to CPJ research.
WikiLeaks defines itself as an “uncensorable” website whose primary interests lie “in exposing oppressive regimes” and being “of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations.” Kristinn Hranfsson, a spokeswoman for WikiLeaks, did not immediately return CPJ’s request for comment.
In late 2010, WikiLeaks disclosed a trove of confidential diplomatic cables, portions of which were published along with news analysis by leading news organizations such as The New York Times and The Guardian of London. CPJ reviewed the full set of cables at the time and found about a dozen instances in which journalists had apparently been mentioned. In most of these cases, the actual names had been redacted before the cables were published. In two cases where enough information was included to make the journalist identifiable, and another in which a journalist’s name was still included, CPJ contacted WikiLeaks, which redacted the information.
In late August, WikiLeaks disclosed a massive cache of confidential cables, more 200 000, most of which were unredacted. CPJ is reviewing the most recent cables to determine whether any other journalists are cited.
CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organisation that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide since 1981.
For more: www.cpj.org