Journalist flees Ethiopia after being named in WikiLeaks files


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The Independent Online

An Ethiopian journalist has fled his homeland following interrogation by government officials after his name appeared in an unredacted State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks. It is thought to be the first documented persecution of an individual named in cables following the decision by WikiLeaks to post its entire uncensored database earlier this month.

WikiLeaks said the publication of its entire trove of cables was inevitable once it became common knowledge online that an encryption password which unlocked the cache had been published by a journalist working for The Guardian newspaper.

But the decision to press ahead with full disclosure was condemned by those who feared that some of those named in the cables might be persecuted by repressive regimes if they were perceived to be co-operating with the US.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Argaw Ashine, a correspondent with the Nation Media Group, was forced to flee Ethiopia last week after he was ordered by police to name a confidential source that had warned him the government was planning to crack down on an independent newspaper.

Mr Ashine's name appears in a number of US Embassy cables sent from Addis Ababa. In an October 2009 cable reporting on growing restrictions against independent media, Mr Ashine is said to have warned reporters at the Addis Neger newspaper that government officials were targeting them because of their critical coverage of Meles Zenawi's administration. The cable claims that Mr Ashine has spoken to an unnamed official working within the Government Communications Affairs Office.

Following the disclosure, the communication office summoned Mr Ashine on 5 September and revoked his press credentials. Police officers then ordered him to return three days later and name his source or face unspecified consequences. Instead he chose exile.

The Independent tried to contact Mr Ashine yesterday but our emails went unanswered. Joel Simon, executive director of the US-based media watchdog, said Mr Ashine's forced exile was proof that the publication of unredacted cables was damaging. "A citation in one of these cables can easily provide repressive governments with the perfect opportunity to persecute or punish journalists and activists," he said.

WikiLeaks accused the CPJ of "distorting facts". "Mr Ashine is mentioned, in passing, in relation to events in 2005 and 2006," said the whistle-blowing platform. "Neither was Mr Ashine named by the CPJ in a list of journalistic related redactions processed by us. 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."