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Reporter named in WikiLeaks flees amid crackdown on dissent

An Ethiopian journalist was forced to flee the country earlier this month after being named in a WikiLeaks cable - the first time a leaked cable has caused direct repercussions for a journalist, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). His case is part of a broadening crackdown on dissent in Ethiopia, say CPJ and other IFEX members.

Argaw Ashine, the local correspondent for Kenya's Nation Media Group, told CPJ he was forced to flee after being interrogated three times in September over the identity of a government source mentioned in a leaked 2009 U.S. cable. WikiLeaks recently published its full archive of 251,000 cables unredacted, naming sources that were removed by partner media organisations.

"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."

WikiLeaks said the CPJ was being misleading in its statement, as Ashine was not cited as a U.S. embassy informant and "no journalistic source is named."

"While, it is outrageous for a journalist to feel the need to leave their country for a period, neither is it good for the CPJ to distort the facts for marketing purposes," WikiLeaks alleged.

The leaked 2009 cable said Ashine was told by an unnamed official source that the government would target six journalists from "Addis Neger", the country's leading independent paper known for being critical of the government. That paper closed later that year, citing fears of arrest and prosecution under a far-reaching anti-terrorism law, says CPJ.

Ethiopian officials have denied that Ashine was pressured to name a source, and consistently denied any plans to censor "Addis Neger", according to news reports.

But, says CPJ, on 8 September police interrogators told Ashine that he had 24 hours to reveal his source in the Ethiopian government or face the consequences.

"This was no idle threat," said CPJ. "At least six journalists were recently detained under the country's draconian anti-terror law. They face up to 20 years in prison."

They include journalist and publisher Eskinder Nega, who was among six journalists and activists arrested on 14 September on accusations of involvement in a terrorist plot.

Another person arrested, Sileshi Hagos, used to cover stories about the political group Ginbot 7 before it was banned for being a terrorist organisation.

Wednesday's arrests follow dozens of other terrorism related arrests and detentions in recent weeks, including those of two Swedish journalists who have been held without charge for more than two months.

Amnesty International says 100 Ethiopian opposition members and five journalists have been arrested since March, all on terror charges.

"The recent spate of arrests points to a broadening crackdown against dissent by the Ethiopian authorities," said Human Rights Watch. The detentions are "just the latest reminder that it is very dangerous to criticise the government in Ethiopia."

"The people are fed up because of the social, economic and political situation and the people follow also what is happening in North Africa and Arab countries ... and people are saying, 'When is our turn? When shall we go to the streets?'" Ethiopian opposition party official Negasso Gidada told AP.

"The attitude is so strong in the country, in the people, soon it will explode, and the government is afraid of that, and by arresting political party members and leaders, the government thinks it will take precautionary measures against that," he said.

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