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Ethiopia restricts information sharing about war

MEKELLE, ETHIOPIA - MARCH 07: Units of Ethiopian army patrol the streets of Mekelle city of the Tigray region, in northern Ethiopia on March 07, 2021 after the city was captured with an operation towards Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). ( Minasse Wondimu Hailu - Anadolu Agency )
Units of Ethiopian army patrol the streets of Mekelle city of the Tigray region, in northern Ethiopia on March 07, 2021 after the city was captured with an operation towards Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) [Minasse Wondimu Hailu - Anadolu Agency]

Ethiopia has announced new restrictions on the sharing of information about the war in the north of the country, which stipulate that battlefront updates can only come from the government, Reuters reports.

"Disseminating information on military manoeuvres, war front updates and results via any medium is forbidden," except for information provided by a joint civilian-military command set up to oversee a state of emergency, the government's communication service said late on Thursday.

The statement did not specify the implications of the new rules for journalists or media outlets covering the war, which broke out last November between the government and rebellious forces from the northern region of Tigray.

It did not, for instance, address the consequence of publishing information provided by unauthorised sources. Ethiopia's media regulator did not return calls from Reuters seeking clarification on the matter.

The Prime Minister's spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, told Reuters on Friday, "The state of emergency prohibits unauthorised entities from disseminating activities from the front via various channels including media." She did not elaborate.

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Ethiopia's parliament designated the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the party that controls most of Tigray, a terrorist group earlier this year. In its statement, the government's communication service instructed "those using freedom of speech as a pretext … to support the terrorist group" to refrain from doing so.

Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, oversaw sweeping reforms when he took office in 2018, including the unbanning of more than 250 media outlets, the release of dozens of journalists and the repeal of some widely criticised media laws.

However, some rights groups say press freedom has eroded since then, as the government has faced outbreaks of deadly violence, including the conflict in Tigray and neighbouring regions.

At least 38 journalists and media workers have been detained since early 2020, most of them since the conflict began, according to a Reuters tally.

Asked about the arrests in May, Ethiopia's media regulator said "freedom of expression and the protection of the press are sacred values that are enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution."

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