Imprisoned journalist released

New York, September 7, 2004—Jailed Ethiopian journalist Tewodros Kassa was freed yesterday after serving out a sentence of more than two years in prison for “press offenses,” according to CPJ sources. With Kassa’s release, no journalists are jailed in Ethiopia, but many have criminal charges pending against them, the sources said.

Kassa, the former editor of the Amharic-language weekly Ethiop, was sentenced to two years in prison in July 2002 on charges of defamation and “disseminating information that could incite people to political violence.” In June this year, just as he was nearing the end of his prison term, Kassa was sentenced to a further three months on criminal defamation charges.

The 2002 sentence for defamation stemmed from a 1997 article in Ethiop alleging that a private investment company specializing in natural-resource development had connections in the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government.

The 2002 sentence for “disseminating false information that could incite people to political violence” stemmed from two stories published in 1997. The first reported that the EPRDF had fired personnel at the Debre Zeit air force base who worked for the former regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam and replaced them with pro-EPRDF workers. The second article alleged that unidentified individuals unsuccessfully tried to bomb a popular hotel in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The 2004 defamation sentence stemmed from a November 2000 article in Ethiop alleging that state security forces may have killed local businessman Duki Feyssa. A relative of Feyssa brought the charge against the journalist.

“While we are relieved that our colleague has been freed from prison, it is outrageous that he was put there in the first place,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We reiterate our call for the Ethiopian government to remove criminal penalties for press offenses.”