Reporters Without Borders protested today at the Ethiopian government’s "unacceptable rigidity" after the arrest on 30 June of five more senior journalists and called on the international community to bear in mind this official treatment of the country’s independent press in its relations with Ethiopia.
"Arrests of journalists are continuing because there is no serious political pressure on the government," the worldwide press freedom organisation said, noting that the editors of four privately-owned Addis Ababa weeklies had been formally charged with libel on 28 June.
"Peacefully working as a journalist is impossible in these circumstances."
The latest arrests were of Taye Belachew (senior editor), Tadesse Kebede (editor in chief) and Tegist Abrham (deputy editor in chief), all of the Amharic-language weekly Lisane Hezeb, and Fassil Yenalem, editor in chief of Addis Zena, and Daniel Gezahegne, editor in chief of Moged.
The three Lisane Hezeb journalists, who were accused of printing a photo of the brutal arrest of two young demonstrators early last month, were freed on bail of 1,000 birr (€95) by a court. The public prosecutor will now decide whether to take the matter further.
The two other journalists were released after making a statement to police about printing a reader’s letter criticising the silence of the Orthodox Church about the police crackdown on post-election disturbances.
30.06.05 - Call for charges to be dropped against four editors
Reporters Without Borders has called on the Ethiopian authorities to "stop using journalists as scapegoats for the country’s instability" after four editors of Addis Ababa-based weeklies were charged with defamation.
Police on 28 June arrested and questioned Befekadu Moredo, Zelalem Gebre, Dawit Fassil and Tamrat Serbesa, respectively editors in chief of Amharic-language weeklies Tomar, Menilik, Asqual and Satenaw for reporting that Ethiopian military pilots undergoing training in Belarus had asked for political asylum, as Ethiopia struggled with post-election violence.
They were released after appearing in court to be charged with defamation, after a wait of seven hours for the payment of bail set at 2,000 birr (190 euros).
"Beneath a facade of democracy, the government of Meles Zenawi is riddled with taboos," said Reporters Without Borders. "Once again journalists are paying the price for an unhealthy political climate, under the easy pretext of defamation. "
"The news report that led to the four editors being rounded up and then charged has been confirmed by a UN agency. Unless they take the view that journalism is in itself a crime, the Ethiopian authorities should drop all charges against them".
The Ethiopian news agency ENA said the four editors had been arrested on the orders of the Ministry of Defence for having "slurred the good name" and "attempting to alienate the military from the Ethiopian people". The offending articles had appeared the previous week in the local and international press, and the UN’s refugee arm, the UNHCR, had confirmed that eight Ethiopian pilots had applied for asylum.
Police opened fire on demonstrators protesting after the ruling party claimed victory in 15 May general elections, killing at least 36 people. Tomar, Menilik, Asqual and Satenaw all criticised police brutality and the mass roundups that followed the demonstrations.