Jailed editor faces multiple charges

New York, June 13, 2001-The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls on Ethiopian authorities to halt the unjust prosecution of Tamirate Zuma, former publisher and editor-in-chief of the defunct Amharic weekly Atkurot, on incitement and other charges relating to his work.

Zuma is due to appear in court tomorrow on the incitement charge. We urge authorities to release Zuma from prison along with his colleague Tsegaie Ayalew, editor-in-chief of the Amharic weekly Genanaw.

“We are deeply disturbed that the Ethiopian government has deprived two journalists of their liberty because of their work,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Zuma and Ayalew should be freed at once, and the charges against them should be dropped.”

On May 25, Zuma was arrested and jailed on charges of inciting violence or rebellion, failing to pay a publishing license fee, and defamation. All three are crimes under the Ethiopian Press Proclamation, according to CPJ sources in Addis Ababa.

The incitement charge is based on a two-year-old Atkurot article in which a retired general predicted the imminent overthrow of the current Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government. Ethiopian law does not permit bail on this charge. The case is due to be heard tomorrow, June 14.

The licensing charge arose because the cash-strapped Zuma was unable to pay the required fee to renew Atkurot‘s publishing license when the newspaper was still in print. This case is due to be heard at the beginning of July. The bail requirement for this charge is 4,000 birr (US$475).

The defamation charge, finally, relates to an Atkurot article about financial mismanagement at the Ethio leather factory. This charge requires a separate bail requirement of 4,000 birr (US$475).

Unable to afford bail, many Ethiopian journalists are imprisoned for indefinite periods of time while multiple cases against them are pending in court.

Ayalew is the only other journalist currently jailed in Ethiopia. Ayalew has been in prison since June 1 on a charge of defamation, according to CPJ sources in Addis Ababa. The charge resulted from a two-year-old Genanaw article about a corruption scandal at the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO).