Human rights campaigner says African Union should move headquarters out of Ethiopia because of concerns about freedom of expression there

November 05, 2014 | StarTribune | Article by: CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG — The African Union should move its headquarters out of Ethiopia because of concerns about freedom of expression there, an Angolan journalist and human rights campaigner said.

Journalist Rafael Marques de Morais, who has been jailed and faces numerous legal challenges for his investigative work in Angola, said in Johannesburg on Tuesday night that the African Union is hypocritical for keeping its base in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. The union represents 53 countries on the continent and says it is committed to transparency and human rights.

Marques cited the ongoing Ethiopian trial on terrorism-related charges of bloggers from Zone 9, a collective that publishes critical news and commentary. He also mentioned the three-year prison sentence handed last week to Temesgen Desalegn, the former editor of the now-defunct newspaper Feteh who was convicted of charges including incitement.

"The situation has worsened, and it indeed shows the hypocrisy of the African Union as an organization representing all Africans," Marques said at an African journalism conference held at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says there are at least 17 journalists in jail in Ethiopia. The only African country with more journalists in prison is Eritrea, it said.

African journalists and human rights campaigners should be "embarrassed for doing so little to support our peers in Ethiopia," Marques said. One option, he said, is to campaign to get the African Union to move its headquarters to a country with a good human rights record.

The Angolan journalist gave a lecture held annually in honor of Carlos Cardoso, a Mozambican journalist who was fatally shot in 2000 in Maputo, Mozambique's capital, while investigating a multi-million dollar fraud case.

Marques described Cardoso as "the great friend I never had the chance to meet personally," saying the Mozambican campaigned for his release when Angolan authorities jailed him in 1999 for criticizing President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

Dos Santos, who took office in 1979, is one of Africa's longest-serving leaders.

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