Awramba Times Website Launched
By Genet Lakew
Awramba Times (Washington DC) Ethiopia’s leading independent newspaper is back, this time online and from the United States. Editor Dawit Kebede, joined by supporters, officially launched the Awramba Times website on Saturday, May 5, 2012.
Activists Tamagne Beyene and Masresha Tilahun, a representative from the Ethiopian Youth National Movement, were the invited guests at the ceremony. Masresha filled in for Dr. Fisseha Eshetu, who could not be present because of a schedule conflict. Dawit and Dr. Fisseha’s relationship goes back to the days when Dawit was a journalism student at Unity University in Addis Ababa, a private university Dr. Fisseha owned and presided over as president. Former lawyer and judge Birtukan Mideksa was also a scheduled speaker but could not attend due to last minute circumstances.
Activist Tamagn opened with a brief history of the free press in Ethiopia, which began in 1993 but has been under threat since the 2005 elections. Since then, independent journalists have faced higher incidents of harassment and imprisonment. Research from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) shows that Ethiopia has the highest number of exiled journalists in the world, 79 since 2001. Dawit is one of them, pressured to flee to the U.S. in November and thus shut down the Awramba Times in the process.
“It is fair to say that the situation got dark after the 2005 elections. When you compare the current state of the free press, it makes you say it was like heaven before the 2005 elections,” said Tamagne. He pointed out that although some independent journalists did face arrest, they at least had the chance to write and express their true thoughts.
Tamagne highlighted pictures of his favorite Awramba Times front-page covers from the newspaper’s heyday, including one with a gravestone bearing the words “Ethiopian Free Press, 1993-2011.”
The next portion featured short videos with congratulatory and supportive messages for Dawit Kebede and Awramba Times. “The news that Awramba Times is being reborn online shows Dawit’s commitment to continuing to report the news, his intense passion and commitment to continue journalism, even from exile and online,” said Mohamed Keita, the advocacy coordinator for CPJ’s Africa program.
“And it follows a trend that we’re seeing across Africa where journalists forced into exile are continuing to practice journalism by going online and they are sending the message that they will not be shut down, they will not be silenced by the traditional methods of censorship,” said Keita.
Political satirist Abe Tokichaw, political scientist Jawar Mohamed, Ethiomedia editor Abraha Belai, and Obang Metho, who is the executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia based in Canada, also sent in video messages expressing support and solidarity for the website’s launch.
Dr. Fisseha assisted in establishing the website and domain for Awrambatimes.com, which also received support from the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT). A question from an audience member raised the issue of possible jamming or blocking of the website in Ethiopia. A 2010 human rights report conducted by the U.S. State Department lists blocked news blog and websites run by Diaspora groups and sources, such as Ethiomedia, Addis Neger, Nazret, Ethiopian Review, and others. Dawit plans to utilize social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, among others, to post articles. In addition, the website allows readers to subscribe via email. These measures will enable readers from Ethiopia to access content from Awramba Times.
The relaunch of Awramba Times comes during a busy week of developments for Ethiopian free press advocates. On Tuesday night, the PEN American Center honored Eskinder Nega with a prestigious Freedom to Write Award. His wife and fellow journalist Serkalem Fasil accepted the award on his behalf as he is currently in prison on terrorism charges. The International Women’s Media Foundation announced journalist Reeyot Alemu, also imprisoned, as the winner of its 2012 Courage in Journalism award, the same award Serkalem won in 2007.