Simegnish (Lily) Y. Mengesha, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow
with comments by
Yohanan Assefa. National Endowment for Democracy
Sally Blair, International Forum for Democratic Studies
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About the Event
The September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States spurred the passage of anti-terrorism legislation worldwide, a development that has engendered widespread debate about the dangers such legislation can pose to civil liberties. Ethiopia is no exception: In 2009, after domestic and international threats to Ethiopia’s national security, its parliament passed a far-reaching anti-terrorism bill whose controversially broad parameters have been used to clamp down on freedom of expression and political dissent. Despite an international outcry, the Ethiopian government continues to employ the sweeping anti-terror law to crack down on journalists critical of the regime. At least fifteen reporters and bloggers have been charged and sentenced to prison terms since the law took effect, while more than thirty others have been driven out of the country. In her presentation, Simegnish Mengesha analyzed the origins of the anti-terrorism law and its harsh effects on Ethiopian media, focusing on new media and highlighting cases of journalists directly affected by the law. She offered recommendations for creating a more open media environment in Ethiopia. Her presentation was followed by comments from Yohanan Assefa.
About the Speakers
Ms. Simegnish Mengesha is a seasoned journalist, media consultant, and translator who has served most recently as director of the Ethiopian Environment Journalists Association. An outspoken advocate for freedom of expression, she has worked extensively with foreign news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Voice of America, and the BBC, partnering with the international media to highlight stories the Ethiopian government would rather leave uncovered. In 2005, she began working with the Sub-Saharan Informer and covered the political unrest following Ethiopia’s national elections that year. In 2012, she assisted U.S. photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair and the United Nations Population Fund in producing the award-winning documentary “Too Young to Wed.” On Press Freedom Day 2015, Ms. Mengesha conducted an interview and press conference with President Barack Obama at which she highlighted the plight of Ethiopian journalism. Yohanan Assefa is program officer for East and Horn of Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy.