Wikileaks cable: Ethiopia reporter Argaw Ashine 'flees'

People reading newspapers in Ethiopia (Archive shot 2005) The Wikileaks cable discussed the Addis Neger newspaper which has subsequently closed

Ethiopian reporter Argaw Ashine has told the BBC he has fled his country because he was cited in a US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks last month.

He said he was interrogated by officials seeking the identity of his government source referred to in a 2009 cable about press harassment.

"It was a bit scary... not a wise idea to stay in such a scenario," he said.

Wikileaks says the cable does not cite Mr Argaw as a US embassy informant and "no journalistic source is named".

But the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says it is the first instance in which a citation in a Wikileaks cables has caused direct repercussions for a journalist.

"The threat we sought to avert through redactions of initial Wikileaks cables has now become real," Joel Simon, the executive director of the US-based media watchdog said in a statement.

"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.

Ethiopian government spokesman Shimellis Kemal told the BBC the country's laws gave "protection for journalists not to disclose the sources of their information".

'Face the consequences'

Start Quote

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”

End Quote Wikileaks

Mr Argaw, who works for Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper and is chairman of the Ethiopian Environment Journalists Association, requested that his location not be revealed for safety reasons.

He said he fled over the weekend after he was summoned for intensive questioning by officials from the Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) on two occasions and a third time by the police with regard to the US cable of 26 October 2009.

It was relating attempts to silence the private Amharic language Addis Neger newspaper, which has since closed and its editors fled the country.

"A contact within GCAO told the Addis Ababa-based Daily Nation reporter Argaw Ashene [Ashine] that the GCAO had drawn up a list of the six top Addis Neger officials... who they plan to target in order to silence the newspaper's analysis," the cable says.

Mr Argaw told the BBC he knew from his source about a plan to charge the Addis Neger journalists under anti-terrorism laws, but did not pass this information directly to the US embassy.

"We had a discussion to support and to help those friends at the Addis Neger newspaper... and the embassy representative was part of the discussion," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Mr Argaw said he had refused to give into the intimidation as ethically he felt he could not disclose his source.

"I was summoned by the police and they clearly told me that I have two choices, disclose my source, otherwise face any possible consequences.

"We have this anti-terrorism bill and according to that law I [could] face 20 years in prison with a single charge," he said.

"Many of my friends and colleagues are facing similar charges and they are forced to flee the country."

'Paranoia'

Mr Argaw said he did not feel betrayed by the US embassy as the leak was not intentional, but the events of the last week had come as a shock.

"It's very sad, within a week leaving your home without any preparation. I love my country and I love my job and it's a big loss for me."

Mr Shimellis said Mr Argaw had been telling "absolute lies".

"I'm sorry for Mr Argaw for undergoing paranoia without any tangible cause for entertaining such fears," the government spokesman told BBC Focus on Africa.

"There was no single occasion for anyone - any journalist - for being a subject of harassment, interrogation on account of disclosing the source of his information and the Addis Neger journalists have closed down their business for reasons that have nothing to do with their political persuasion."

Wikileaks said the CPJ was being misleading in its statement, as Mr Argaw was only mentioned in passing in the cable and was not on a list of journalists sent by the CPJ asking that their names be withheld before the cables were published.

"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 said in a statement.

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