Argaw Ashine was questioned last week by government authorities followed by police interrogation, after he was named in leaked 2009 US diplomatic cables, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.
It is the “first instance CPJ has confirmed in which a citation in one of the cables has caused direct repercussions for a journalist”, it said in a statement.
Ashine was questioned over comments made to US officials concerning reported government plans “to silence the now-defunct Addis Neger, then the country’s leading independent newspaper”, the Washington-based group said.
“Ashine fled Ethiopia over the weekend,” it said in a statement, criticising the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks for its mass release of documents without removing sensitive names.
“He has requested that his current location not be disclosed for safety reasons.”
Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon told AFP that the statement by CPJ “cannot be true”.
“In the first place, no official has asked him to disclose his source and in the second place no official can ask him to disclose a source under Ethiopian law,” he said.
“We have no problem in accepting him back, he has the right to live in Ethiopia,” the spokesman went on.
Ethiopia is one of Africa‘s most restrictive countries for media, according to the watchdog.
“A citation in one of these cables can easily provide repressive governments with the perfect opportunity to persecute or punish journalists and activists,” said CPJ director Joel Simon.
Ashine wrote for several publications including Kenya’s Nation Media Group.