Journalist jailed in defamation case

New York, December 28, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the recent jailing of an Ethiopian journalist who was unable to pay bail in a criminal defamation case. Wosonseged Gebrekidan, former editor-in-chief of the private, Amharic-language weekly Ethiop, has been imprisoned since December 23.

Local sources said Gebrekidan was charged with defamation in connection with a March 2001 article in Ethiop about a dispute between two neighbors in the capital, Addis Ababa. The court imposed a 3,000 birr bail (US$335), which Gebrekidan has been unable to pay.

The article alleged that the Ethiopian Justice Ministry prematurely dropped charges against businesswoman Eteneshe Abreha, who was accused of having her neighbor’s house illegally demolished. The story was widely covered in the Ethiopian press, local sources said. Abreha filed a defamation complaint against Gebrekidan, and under Ethiopian law, defamation is punishable by imprisonment.

CPJ has documented at least five other criminal charges pending against Gebrekidan stemming from his work for the Addis Ababa-based Ethiop. Court cases against journalists in Ethiopia can drag on for years, and journalists are regularly jailed for not being able to pay bail or for missing court hearings. Many journalists have multiple charges pending.

In April 2004, authorities jailed Merid Estifanos, former editor-in-chief of the private, Amharic-language weekly Satanaw, for more than a month because he was unable to pay bail in a criminal defamation case.

“We call on Ethiopian authorities to release Wosonseged Gebrekidan immediately, and to repeal criminal penalties for press offenses. Journalists should not be imprisoned for reporting the news,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Criminal cases against journalists are a serious threat to press freedom in Ethiopia.”