Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release from prison of eight journalists after the federal high court cleared them today of subversion. The organisation called for 13 others held since November 2005 to be freed at once.
“The Ethiopian judiciary has begun to realise the extravagant and dangerous side to this drawn-out episode,” it said. “We are especially glad that Serkalem Fasil and Eskinder Nega have been freed and will now be able to look after their child, who was born in prison last year. Also that the most serious charges against those still being held have been dropped. When these others have been freed, Ethiopia can return to the path of dialogue and democracy.”
The court today acquitted 25 people who have been on trial for the past year on charges of “genocide,” “high treason” and “plotting to overthrow the government.” They were arrested in November 2005 after a police crackdown on demonstrations by the main opposition group, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD, or Kinijit in Amharic).
Eight of the 25 were journalists. They included managing editors Zekarias Tesfaye (Netsanet), Sisay Agena (Ethiop), Eskinder Nega and his wife Serkalem Fasil (who gave birth to their child in prison last June) (Asqual, Menelik and Satenaw) and Fasil Yenealem (Addis Zena), along with Dereje Habtewold (assistant editor of Menilik and Netsanet), Nardos Meaza (editor of Satenaw) and Feleke Tibebu (assistant editor of Hadar). The court said the government had not proved its case against them.
The court asked editors Dawit Kebede (Hadar), Mesfin Tesfaye (Abay), Andualem Ayele (Ethiop) and Wonakseged Zeleke (Asqual), as well as two others, Zelalem Guebre (Menilik) and Abey Gizaw (Netsanet), who were tried in their absence, to present their defence. “Genocide” and “high treason” charges have been dropped against them and they will be tried for “plotting to overthrow the government” and “incitement to rebellion.”
Two of the 13 journalists still in prison are suspected of being agents of the separatist Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).