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Ethiopia charges six journalists with terrorism

From left: Nega, Gellaw, Negash, Teklemariam, Yenealem, and Belew. (CPJ)

New York, November 11, 2011--A judge in Ethiopia's federal high court charged six journalists with terrorism on Thursday under the country's antiterrorism law, bringing the number of journalists charged under the statute since June to 10, CPJ research found. 

Twenty-four people, including imprisoned dissident blogger Eskinder Nega and five other journalists critical of the government who work online and in exile, were charged, according to the court charge sheet obtained by CPJ. Nega, a contributor to U.S.-based Ethiopian diaspora news websites; editors Mesfin Negash and Abiye Teklemariam of the U.S.-based Addis Neger Online; Abebe Gellaw of the U.S.-based Addis Voice; Abebe Belew of the U.S.-based radio station Addis Dimts; and Fasil Yenealem of Netherlands-based station ESAT were charged with providing support to Ginbot 7, a banned opposition movement that the government formally designated a terrorist entity under the sweeping 2009 antiterrorism law this year, the charge sheet said. The law criminalizes any reporting that authorities deem "encourage" or "provide moral support" to groups the government has labeled terrorists. The five journalists in exile were charged in absentia.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal accused the journalists of "abetting, aiding, and supporting a terrorist group." Kemal accused Ethiopia's neighbor, Eritrea, of involvement in a vague plot against the country. "They have received from the Eritrean government weapons and explosives for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities in Ethiopia," Kemal said.

"Ethiopia's terrorism charges against journalists critical of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government are becoming vague and ludicrous," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "The authorities have failed to provide any hard evidence and should drop these charges immediately."

Two of the journalists, Nega and Yenealem, were imprisoned on anti-state charges for coverage critical of the government's brutal repression of pro-democracy protests following Ethiopia's disputed 2005 election, according to CPJ research. Nega has been imprisoned since September 14 in Maekelawi Federal Detention Center, where torture is commonly used, according to a Human Rights Watch report. One of the 24 arrested, opposition leader Natnael Mekonnen, told the court he had been abused repeatedly in custody, news reports said.

Editors Negash and Teklemariam shut down their newspaper in late 2009, following a series of arrests and the threat of imminent arrest under the antiterrorism law over their in-depth coverage of political affairs, CPJ research showed. Gellaw fled the country in 1998, and in 1999, Belew started a radio program based in Washington, D.C. that broadcast commentaries critical of the government.

Ethiopia's repression over the last decade drove the highest number of journalists into exile in the world, according to a CPJ study. Ethiopia trails only Eritrea as Africa's leading jailer of journalists. 

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