More than 80 journalists were awaiting trial at the end of 2002 and all of them could at any moment receive a prison sentence of at least several months. This constant pressure on Ethiopia’s newspaper editors reinforced self-censorship in the privately-owned press. Many journalists preferred to say nothing and not use information rather than risk being sentenced to a fine or a prison sentence and thereby threaten family members for whom they are the only source of income. Eritrea
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government and the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) continued to control the news put out by the state-owned media, which still had a monopoly of broadcasting. Information minister Simon Bereket said in January 2002 that privately-owned radio and television stations would be permitted, but nothing was done. The only privately-owned radio station on the air was Radio Fana, owned by the ruling EPRDF. This situation allowed the EPRDF to sell its advertising air-time at a good price. Requests by would-be commercial broadcasters for the assignment of radio frequencies drew a blank.
Relations between the government and the privately-owned print media were still very tense. The authorities accused journalists of failing to verify information and lacking in professional ethics. The information minister said in late January that, "as long as the media fail to present the government’s strong points and weak points in a balanced way, they will not be judged as responsible institutions."
Five journalists imprisoned
At the end of 2002, at least two journalists were in prison in Ethiopia.
The federal high court sentenced Lubaba Said, former editor in chief of the newspaper Tarik, to a year in prison on 3 April for "inventing false news likely to demoralise the army and make people anxious" in two pieces she had written several years earlier about defections within the presidential guard. She was incarcerated the same day in the central prison of Addis Ababa.
The federal high court sentenced Tewodros Kassa, former editor in chief of the weekly Ethiop, to two years in prison on 10 July after finding him guilty under the press law of "publishing false information that could incite people to political" and for having "harmed the reputation" of businessman Duki Feyssa. Kassa had reported that Duki, suspected of links with the armed separatists of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), had been killed by the authorities. Duki’s son had accused Ethiop of sullying his father’s reputation. Kassa began serving his sentence the same day.
A previously arrested journalist released in 2002
Tamrat Zuma, the publisher of the weekly Atkurot who was arrested on 15 January 2001 and held in Kerchiele prison, was released on 4 March 2002 after paying bail of 16,000 birrs (about 1,800 euros). Conditions in the prison were especially trying for Tamrat, a diabetic, and he had lost more than 10 kilos. He had been charged with libel and incitement to violence for carrying statements by opposition activists that were relayed by a foreign radio station; for a report criticising the running of a state-owned tannery; and for an interview with a former general who predicted the government’s imminent overthrow.
Four other journalists imprisoned and released in 2002
Gizaw Taye Wordofa, editor in chief of the weekly Lamrot, was detained by police on 6 March 2002 for "publishing immoral and indecent literature." Lamrot carries short stories, some of an erotic nature. He was released on 24 June.
Melese Shine, editor in chief of Ethiop, was imprisoned by the high court on 20 March 2002 because of an interview with a former imperial army colonel now living in exile in Sudan and a profile of the prime minister based on the statements of former aides and colleagues. He was charged with "defaming the head of government" and "interviewing a bandit claiming to be the leader of an illegal organisation." After being held in a police station in Addis Ababa he was released on 25 June on payment of 12,000 birrs (about 1,345 euros) in bail.
Freelance journalist Zegeye Haile was arrested and jailed in late July for "mendacious information and circulation of false news" because of a report he wrote in 2001 about conditions at Nazret prison (100 km. south of Addis Ababa). He was freed in mid-October.
Wossenseged Gebre-Kidan, deputy editor in chief of Ethiop, was arrested without explanation in mid-October and was released on bail a few weeks later.
A journalist arrested
Zekarias Tesfaye, editor of the weekly Netsanet, was arrested on 25 January 2002 and briefly held at the Central Investigation Office (CIO) on a charge of "libel and publication of false news about businessman and investor Sheikh Mohammed Al-Amoudi." He was freed on payment of 5,000 birrs (about 600 euros) in bail.
A journalist physically attacked
Yonas Wolde Senbet, a reporter with Tobia, was covering a demonstration outside an orthodox church in Addis Ababa on 27 December 2002 when he was attacked by policemen, who seized his equipment. He was treated for bruising.
Pressure and obstruction
Kifle Mulat, president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) and former editor in chief of the newspaper Ethio-Times, was sentenced to pay a fine of 12,000 birrs (about 1,345 euros) on 1 March 2002 for writing in a 1998 article that "the hell" that existed under the Derg (the Marxist junta overthrown in 1991) continued under the present regime. He was accused of publishing "false information" and "information liable to disturb the peace."
The authorities announced the closure of the border with Eritrea on 29 April 2002, accusing the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) of violating the accord signed with the Ethiopian government. Deputy information minister Netsanet Asfaw said UNMEE had taken journalists to the town of Badme "not via Ethiopia but via Eritrea." Both countries claim Badme. The border was reopened a few days later.
The government said at the end of July that it would amend the 1992 press law and introduce a code of ethics for journalists. The EFJA objected, arguing that a professional code of ethics is supposed to be drawn up and adopted by the profession itself and not imposed by the authorities.