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Zenawi sues Ethiopian radio station in US, website disappears

Update: as of midday on August 18th, Tensae.com is back online. A banner on their site currently reads: “Thanks to your untire effort and our Lawyers, we are back!”

The website of Ethiopian opposition radio station Tensae Ethiopia Voice of Unity has disappeared, apparently as a consequence of legal threats received by their webhosting provider.

According to an article by the Ethiopian News Agency, the Ethiopian government’s official news service, four founders of the radio station – Goshu Habte, Yonas Habte, Dawit Kebede and Lishan Gizaw – are being sued by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister’s wife, and about a dozen senior ministers and politicians, apparently for libel or slander.

The defamation case centers around accusations Tensae allegedly made that Ethiopian politicians have transferred government funds into personal bank accounts overseas.

Ethiopian Review, an Ethiopian opposition publication, sees the lawsuit as another tool the Zenawi government is using to attack independent journalists, many of whom left Ethiopia to escape government harrasment. Ethiopian Review identifies Dawit Kebede as a journalist who fled Ethiopia to escape prosecution under defamation charges – he went on to co-found Tensae Radio. According to the ER article, two of the other men identified are relatives of people involved with Tensae Radio, but aren’t involved with the project themselves, while no one seems to know who Lishan Gizaw is…

Libel, especially against public figures, is notoriously hard to prove under US law. But Glob@t, Tensae’s internet provider, was evidently sufficiently scared off by a legal threat from Zenawi’s lawyers that the site was shut down 48 hours after receiving a complaint letter. The version of their site retrieved from Google’s cache includes the following text:

“Our web hosting company, Globat.com has received a complaint that www.tensae.com has false and defamatory statements. In order to continue hosting us, the company needs to provide a written response. We have less than 48 hours to save or shutdown tensae website.

Our webpage might be shutdown but the radio transmission to Ethiopia will continue as usual. ”

I’m trying to find out more about this story from Ethiopian bloggers and other friends. If you’ve got more information on the situation, please let me know. And if any of the lawyers that reads my blog has a moment to do a Lexis search, it would be very interesting to see if we can find out what venue the defamation suit has been filed in – please let me know if you can help.

Update: Reporters Sans Frontières notes that Ethiopia has been systematically hassling independent journalists, imprisoning an editor for refusing to identify a source, arresting reporters for covering post-election violence, etc. Nothing on the Tensae case yet, but I’m trying to reach friends there about the situation.

Update 2: Ethiopundit has a (typically) thoughtful, complex and rich post on the situation.

5 thoughts on “Zenawi sues Ethiopian radio station in US, website disappears”

  1. Wow. Globat.com is a US ISP (out of LA). I knew the Ethiopian gov’t was cracking down on dissenters, but threatening a foreign ISP is a little much. I just sent them an email offering to host their site.

    BTW, I’m rjhatl in #globalvoices. I’m just not usually awake when y’all are in there. Should I leave the channel?


  2. Hey Robbie – thanks for offering to host the site. I’d been considering it myself, but am very reluctant to host anything that has to be up 24/7 given current travel schedules. And yeah, the technique of threatening US ISPs is a novel and very scary tactic.

    Thrilled to have you in channel on #GV – we tend to use it a bit like a conference room, flocking in for meetings and leaving it alone otherwise. But we’re thrilled to have you there…

  3. Pingback: …My heart’s in Accra » “Sedition” in Uganda - more attacks on press freedom in East Africa

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