Four editors arrested, released on bail

New York, June 28, 2005—Police arrested four editors of private Amharic-language newspapers today in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, CPJ sources said. The arrests stem from reports in the weeklies about Ethiopian air force pilots who allegedly defected during a training program in Belarus last week, one source said.

That source said the Defense Ministry ordered the journalists arrested on charges of defaming the military. Reports about the pilots, first published last week, were carried widely in local and international media.

Held for more than seven hours today before being released on bail of 2,000 birr (about US $228) were: Befekadu Moreda, editor-in-chief of Tomar; Zelalem Gebre, editor-in-chief of Menilik; Dawit Fassil, editor-in-chief of Asqual; and Tamrat Serbesa, editor-in-chief of Satanaw.

The arrests were the latest attempt by Ethiopian authorities to stifle information in the wake of a violent post-election upheaval. The country’s parliamentary elections on May 15 were followed by a deadly government crackdown on rioting opposition supporters who claimed the elections were riddled with fraud. Election results have yet to be announced.

Earlier this month, officials briefly detained and questioned at least six editors from the Amharic-language press, including Zelalem Gebre of Menilik. On June 7, the Information Ministry revoked the accreditation of five Ethiopian journalists working for Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche-Welle radio programs. Their permits have not been restored, and several of the journalists have reported further harassment by Ethiopian authorities, a VOA source told CPJ.

Fikre Gudu, a prominent newspaper distributor in Addis Ababa, remains in detention without charge since his arrest on June 8. Local sources believe Gudu’s arrest might be linked to attempts by Ethiopian authorities to limit newspaper distribution in the capital.

“We are deeply concerned by signs of a crackdown on independent media in Ethiopia,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “We call on Ethiopian authorities to stop harassing journalists, to release Fikre Gudu, and to restore accreditation to all local correspondents of Voice of America and Deutsche-Welle so they can return to their important work of reporting the news.”