Reporter named by WikiLeaks flees into hiding

A reporter whose name appeared unredacted in one of WikiLeaks' 'Cablegate' leak of US diplomatic memos has fled Ethiopia after being interrogated by the country's government - the first journalist to fall victim to the whistle-blowing site's allegedly cavalier attitude to protecting mentioned individuals.

Argaw Ashine, whose current whereabouts remain secret, works for Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper and is chairman of the Ethiopian Environment Journalists Association. He left his home country last weekend after being questioned by authorities seeking to discover the identity of a government source referred to in a 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks last month, which referred to the harassment of journalists.

The text of the cable includes the lines: "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."

"It was a bit scary... not a wise idea to stay in such a scenario," Argaw told the BBC of his ordeal.

US-based media watchdog, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), says Argaw's case is the first time a journalist has been directly affected by being mentioned in a WikiLeaks cable.

"The threat we sought to avert through redactions of initial Wikileaks cables has now become real," said Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director. "A citation in one of these cables can easily provide repressive governments with the perfect opportunity to persecute or punish journalists and activists."

Argaw was questioned twice by officials of the country's Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO) and once by police. The reporter feared repercussions after he refused to reveal the source of information concerning Ethiopian government intimidation of a now-closed newspaper called Addis Neger. Argaw denies passing any information directly to the US embassy in Addis Ababa.

"I was summoned by the police and they clearly told me that I have two choices, disclose my source, otherwise face any possible consequences... Many of my friends and colleagues are facing similar charges and they are forced to flee the country," he said.

Under Ethiopian anti-terror laws, Argaw could have faced up to 20 years in jail.

WikiLeaks denies that its unredacted leak had placed Argaw in danger. Responding to criticism from the CPJ, the organisation said in a statement: "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."