Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the release yesterday of the last journalist still imprisoned in Ethiopia, Tewodros Kassa, the weekly Ethiop’s former editor. Held since 10 July 2003 in Addis Ababa’s main prison, he served a two-year sentence imposed by the federal high court for allegedly making up reports "liable to incite political violence".
Kassa’s release is "good news", the organisation said, "as it means Ethiopia’s prisons are no longer holding any journalists, but the situation is still worrying because the government insists on keeping a very close watch on the news media."
Editor still in prison after new sentence
The release from prison of Tewodros Kassa, former editor of the Amharic-language weekly Ethiop jailed on 10 July 2002 for two years for supposedly publishing false news likely to cause public violence has been delayed by a new three-month sentence for libel. The verdict, in a case dating back to 2000, was handed down in June.
The Ethiopian government appears to be keeping up pressure on the country’s independent media. A draft new press law presented by the information ministry in May has positive points such as protection of journalistic sources but still does not conform to international standards of freedom of expression.
It restricts access to the journalistic profession, includes up to five years imprisonment for media offences and sets up a government-controlled press council to apply a code of ethics.
Journalist jailed for two years for libel and incitement to violence
Reporters Without Borders protested today against a two-year jail sentence imposed on journalist Tewodros Kassa for libel and incitement to political violence and called on the Ethiopian government to abolish the country’s harsh press law.
Urging Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi to see that he was freed at once, Reporters Without Border secretary-general Robert Ménard noted in a letter to him that "in general, prison sentences for defamation have been deemed by international human rights authorities as disproportionate to the offence." The UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Abid Hussain, has said that imprisoning someone for their peacefully-expressed opinion is a "serious violation of human rights."
Ménard called for the country’s harsh 1992 press law to be abolished and the penal code to be liberalised to permit more free expression. He noted that Zenawi was on Reporters Without Borders’ worldwide list of 38 predators of press freedom.
Kassa, former editor-in-chief of the weekly Amharic-language magazine Ethiop, was sentenced by the Federal High Court on 10 July to two years in prison. He was convicted of having published three articles containing "false information that could incite people to political violence" and for having "harmed the reputation" of businessman Duki Feyssa.
One of the articles, headed "Businessman killed by unidentified force," said that Duki, suspected of being a member of the anti-government Oromo Liberation Front, may have been murdered by state security forces. Duki’s son said the paper had libelled his father by writing this.
Reporters Without Borders noted that Lubaba Said, former editor-in-chief of the newspaper Tarik, was sentenced by the High Court on 3 April this year for publishing allegedly false news likely to undermine morale in the army and among the population. The paper had several years earlier run two articles saying members of the presidential guard had defected.