The government began a crackdown on independent media and threatened to charge some journalists with treason, an offense that carries the death penalty, after the protests erupted. International news organizations said that more than 40 people were killed in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters who accused Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of rigging polls in May which returned him to power.
“The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged by these ongoing arrests,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ executive director. “We call on the Ethiopian authorities to abandon any idea of bringing treason charges against journalists, and to end this blatant attempt to shut down the country’s independent media.”
Both Ayle and Meaza appeared on a government list, disseminated a week ago by state-owned media, of people the government plans to prosecute for attempting to “violently undermine the constitutional order in the country.” The list included the publishers and editors of eight private, Amharic-language weekly newspapers, in addition to opposition leaders, the heads of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association and local representatives of the international charity Action Aid, many of whom are already in jail. It also included the president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA), Kifle Mulat. State media have disseminated photographs of many of these journalists, and have called on the public to tell police their whereabouts.
On Saturday and Sunday, police searched the offices of the private, Amharic-language weekly Netsanet, whose publisher and deputy editor were arrested November 9 after their names appeared on the government’s wanted list. They also searched the shared offices of Ethiop and Abay, another local weekly. Police confiscated documents, computers, money, and other equipment and materials from the offices, local sources told CPJ. On Friday, police searched Ayle’s home in Addis Ababa.
For more information about the crackdown in Ethiopia, see CPJ’s alerts: http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Ethiopia10nov05na.html and http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Ethiopia04nov05na.html.