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Ethiopia20 July 2007

Four journalists convicted of treason are pardoned and freed

Reporters Without Borders voiced relief on learning that the Ethiopian government today heeded international pleas and pardoned 38 opposition members, including four journalists, who had been given jail terms ranging from six months to life on 16 July.

The four journalists to receive pardons were Ethiop editor Andualem Ayele, Abay editor Mesfin Tesfaye, Asqual editor Wonakseged Zeleke and Dawit Fassil, the deputy editor of the now defunct weekly Satenaw. Two other journalists who were given life sentences in absentia - Menilik editor Zelalem Guebre and Netsanet editor Abey Gizaw - have not so far been included in the pardon.

“We have finally had some good news in this interminable case, but we remain on our guard,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has taken account of the international community’s appeals but he made the release of these prisoners conditional on their signing an ‘apology to the Ethiopian people’ for the ‘mistakes made in November 2005’.”

The press freedom organisation added: “This case will not be over until Zelalem Guebre and Abey Gizaw have also been cleared of all the charges against them.”

16.07 - Six journalists get jail terms ranging from 18 months to life

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage at the federal high court’s decision today to sentence six journalists to jail terms ranging from six months to life. They are part of a group of 43 government opponents who were tried together. Most of them were found guilty of “trying to overthrow constitutional rule.”

“We are certainly relieved that court president Adil Ahmed did not accept prosecutor Abraha Tetemke’s request for the application of the death sentence, but imposing life imprisonment on journalists who, to our knowledge, were just doing their job is outrageous,” the Reporters Without Borders said.

“After the acquittal of eight journalists in April, we had reason to hope that Ethiopia would finally respect the right of its citizens to free speech,” Reporters Without Borders added. “Today’s sentences will just fuel tension in the country. We hope the defendants will be able to appeal and that the judges will then treat them with clemency.”

Today’s high court sentences were passed on 43 members of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy, of whom six are journalists. There were arrested for taking party in opposition protests in November 2005 following disputed legislative elections.

Ethiop editor Andualem Ayele and Abay editor Mesfin Tesfaye received a life sentence, as did two other journalists who were tried in absentia, Menilik editor Zelalem Guebre and Netsanet editor Abey Gizaw. Asqual editor Wonakseged Zeleke was sentenced to three years in prison.

Dawit Fassil, the deputy editor of the now defunct weekly Satenaw, who had been found guilty of publishing inaccurate information, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. After spending 17 months in prison, he was released on bail in April and was then re-arrested. The court is discussing the possibility of releasing him in view of the time he has already been held.

The court also imposed heavy fines on the Serkalem, Sisay and Fassil press groups and ordered that they be disbanded.

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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Alarm at TV station director’s abduction near Mogadishu
27 May - Gabon
Government imposes news blackout on President Bongo’s health
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
6 March 2008 - Kenya
"How far to go ?" Kenya’s media caught in the turmoil of a failed election

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Sign the petition for the release of ten Eritrean journalists