The Ethiopian press still has to cope with great difficulties. Several journalists were arrested in 2003 and one was still being held at the end of the year. The government seems determined to adopt a news press law that will impose draconian restrictions on press freedom.
A new draft press law, presented by the government at the beginning of 2003, was fiercely criticised by the Ethiopian news media and by both Ethiopian and international organisations that defend free expression. The independent media said it was reactionary and repressive. The Ethiopia Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) proposed various amendments, including allowing foreigners to invest in the Ethiopian press.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the bill’s aim was to bring Ethiopia’s laws into line with European legislation. He nonetheless pointed out that if someone shouted ’fire’ in a cinema and caused accidents, they would be taken to court as an individual, and he questioned those who argue that individuals should not be held responsible for doing the same thing in a newspaper. The new press law was due to be adopted in 2004.
The EFJA’s closure in November 2003 - ostensibly for purely bureaucratic reasons - indicated a new toughening in the attitude of the authorities. After allowing something of an opening in recent years, the government seemed to trying to reassert control and step up pressure on independent news media.
Four journalists imprisoned
At least one journalist was imprisoned in Ethiopia at the end of the year.
Tewodros Kassa, the former editor of the weekly Ethiop, has been held since July 2002 in the main prison of Addis Ababa. He was sentenced to two years in prison by the federal high court after pleading guilty to publishing fabricated news likely to incite political violence.
Lubaba Said, the former editor of the newspaper Tarik, was released at the start of 2003. She had been sentenced on 3 April 2002 to a year in prison because of two articles several years earlier about the defection of members of the presidential guard, for which she was accused of fabricating false news likely to demoralise the army and upset people.
Melese Shine, the editor of Ethiop, was imprisoned in Addis Ababa on 29 April on a charge of libel because of a November 2001 report accusing a public hospital administrator of embezzlement. He was released on bail on 25 October.
Arif Abdul Kadir, the managing editor of the weekly Al-Nejashi, Awol Kedir, its administrator, and Yusuf Getachew, its editor, were arrested on 18 August on a charge of libel because of a report about a dispute between Oustaz Kassim, an influential person in Ethiopia, and his second wife’s family. The three journalists were held for five days.
A journalist detained
Ethiop deputy editor Wossenseged Gebre-Kidan was detained on 14 May 2003 and charged with libel because of an article a year earlier criticising Ethiopia’s former ambassador to France, Habtemariam Seyoum. He was released on bail two days.
A journalist physically attacked
Araya Tesfa Maryam of Ethiop was attacked by unidentified assailants as he was returning home on 1 October 2003. He was injured in the head and legs.
Harassment and obstruction
Police harassed newspaper vendors on the streets of Addis Ababa in February 2003, detaining some of them and confiscating copies of newspapers.
The justice ministry suspended the activities of the Ethiopia Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) on 10 November for an indefinite period on the grounds that it had been operating for three years without renewing its licence. The ministry summoned four of its representatives on 8 December and warned them they no longer had the right to issue statements on behalf of the association and could be prosecuted if they did so.