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Ethiopia3 January 2005

In continuing judicial harassment of Ethiop, editor gets week in prison

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the continuing judicial harassment of the independent, Amharic-language publication Ethiop, whose editor Wosonseged Gebrekidan has just spent a week in prison because he was unable to pay the bail set by the federal high court in a libel action.

Gebrekidan, who used to be Ethiop’s managing editor, was finally released on the evening of 31 December after the bail was paid with the help of the Ethiopia Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) and international NGOs. Ethiop is both a daily newspaper and a magazine.

"It is unacceptable that the Ethiopian courts continue to impose exorbitant fines and bail amounts on journalists in defamation cases," Reporters Without Borders said. "This is a standard practice that is consciously used with the aim of sending journalists to prison as they are very often unable to pay the sums demanded."

Ethiop has been one of the targets of this judicial harassment for years, Reporters Without Borders noted, calling on the authorities to put a stop to this situation so that its journalists, and the journalists of all the independent press, can work freely.

"We also urge the government to keep its recent promises to international press freedom organisations about accreditation, the protection of sources and the creation of an independent press council, and we point out that it is high time Ethiopia followed its African neighbours and decriminalized press offences," Reporters Without Borders added.

Gebrekidan has several prosecutions pending. In the article that just earned him a week in prison, which appeared in March 2001, he wrote that the justice ministry had prematurely dropped a case against Eteneshe Abreha, a businesswomen accused of demolishing her neighbours’ house without legal permission.

Continuing harassment

A libel action was also brought against Ethiop on 2 December by Harqa Haroye, justice minister in the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front government, on the basis of governmental declaration on the press 34/85 and article 206 of the criminal code. It named Gebrekidan as well as former editor Andualem Ayele and deputy editor Tesfa Tegegne Tadesse and concerned an article about political movements within the army and The Hague’s arbitration on the border with Eritrea.

The federal high court sentenced Ethiop former editor Tewodros Kassa to two years in prison on 10 July 2002 after finding him guilty under the press law and article 480 of the criminal code of "publishing false information that could incite people to political violence" and "harming the reputation" of businessman Duki Feyssa.

Kassa had reported that Duki had been suspected of links with the armed separatists of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and was killed by the authorities. Duki’s son had accused Ethiop of sullying his father’s reputation. Kassa had already been sentenced to a year in prison on the same charges in 2000.

Melese Shine, another of Ethiop’s editors, was imprisoned by the federal high court on 20 March 2002 because of an interview with a former imperial army colonel now living in exile in Sudan and a profile of the prime minister based on the statements of former aides and colleagues. He was charged with "defaming the head of government" and "interviewing a bandit claiming to be the leader of an illegal organisation." He was held in a police station in Addis Ababa until released on payment of 10,000 birrs (about 1,350 euros) in bail.

In this country
3 November - Ethiopia
Leading newspaper editor beaten unconscious outside son’s school
28 August - Ethiopia
Newspaper editor freed on bail
7 May - Ethiopia
Entertainment monthly’s deputy editor freed on bail
8 January - Ethiopia
Letter to prime minister about government’s refusal to licence two new newspapers
20 August - Ethiopia
Three more opposition journalists freed under government pardon

in the annual report
Ethiopia - Annual Report 2008
Ethiopia - Annual Report 2007
Ethiopia - Annual report 2006

Africa press releases
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26 May - Somalia
Radio reporter shot by militia dies of injuries, fourth journalist to be killed this year

africa archives

18 March 2009 - Democratic Republic of Congo
“Bukavu, murder city”: investigation report into murders of journalists in the capital of Sud-Kivu
21 May 2008 - Eritrea
Naizghi Kiflu, the dictatorship’s eminence grise
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"How far to go ?" Kenya’s media caught in the turmoil of a failed election

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