New York, February 28, 2001 – Befekadu Moreda, editor of the private Amharic-language weekly Tomar, was released on bail on February 27, after spending two weeks in jail for refusing to reveal sources for a story on a secessionist movement.
Kifle Mulat, the president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA), said the relative quickness of Moreda’s release was a response to the protests of domestic and international press freedom organizations [Read CPJ’s protest letter]. “I hope this will convey a message to the government that Ethiopian journalists are not alone,” he said.
Moreda was arrested on February 13 in Addis Ababa. He was then transferred on February 17 to a prison in the distant region of Benishangul, where he could not be reached by his family or his lawyer. According to Mulat, who traveled to Benishangul to monitor the case, Moreda suffered threats while in prison from police who tried to force him to reveal his sources.
Moreda appeared before a district court in Benishangul on February 22, where he was again asked to reveal his sources for a January 31 article in Tomar about secessionist demands among the Berta people in Benishangul. Moreda refused to comply, citing a provision in the Ethiopian Press Proclamation of 1992 that guarantees confidentiality of sources and emphasizing that freedom of the press is a constitutionally protected right.
“We welcome Moreda’s release, but he should have never been imprisoned in the first place,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We hope this will mark the start of an improvement of press conditions in Ethiopia, which still holds five other journalists in prison, like Moreda, for reporting on separatist movements. Four of them have been in jail since 1997.”