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Ethiopia13 April 2005

Chirac asked to use Ethiopian leader’s visit to press for release of two Oromo journalists

Reporters Without Borders has asked French President Jacques Chirac to take advantage of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s official visit to France on 14-15 April to press for the release of two Oromo journalists, Shiferraw Insermu and Dhabassa Wakjira, who have been detained without justification for more than a year in Addis Ababa.

Voicing concern about their fate as Ethiopia enters a period of elections, the press freedom organization said in an 8 April letter : "In our view, France cannot afford to ignore the Oromo issue in its talks with Ethiopia and the case of these two journalists, forgotten in their prison cells for the past year, is a glaring and scandalous illustration of this."

The letter added: "Free, fair and peaceful elections will not be able to take place in Ethiopia as long as the case of Shiferraw Insermu and Dhabassa Wakjira has not been resolved in accordance with the law and the principles of justice and humanity."

Shiferraw Insermu and Dhabassa Wakjira worked for the Oromo-language service of the state-owned Ethiopian Television (ETV). They were initially arrested at home in Addis Ababa on 22 April 2004. The federal high court ordered their release on bail on 9 August but only Shiferraw Insermu was freed. He was re-arrested in October and again in January, since when he has remained in prison.

Dhabassa Wakjira has been held without a break all this time, and the prison authorities have ignored various court release orders.

A former colleague now living in exile said Shiferraw Insermu and Dhabassa Wakjira were detained along with other Oromo employees of ETV who have since been released. Their arrests followed the broadcasting of a report about the violent dispersal of Oromo student demonstrators on the Addis Ababa university campus on 4 January in which many were arrested, especially members of the Macha Tulama social assistance group who were protesting against the government’s decision to move Oromo regional bodies from Addis Ababa (called Finfinne by the Oromos) to Adama (also known as Nazret), 100 km east of the capital.

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders in Addis Ababa, the two journalists are being held separately, in different prisons in the capital, and are receiving regular visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

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