Journalists could face treason charge

New York, November 10, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists unequivocally condemns plans by the Ethiopian government to charge journalists detained during a wave of anti-government protests with treason. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Wednesday treason charges would be brought against opposition leaders and journalists arrested in connection with clashes last week between protesters and security forces in which more than 40 people were killed, according to international news reports.

At least six journalists are in detention. Most of the private press is hiding, local sources told CPJ. Zenawi told members of the foreign press that the journalists “are not just journalists. They will not be charged for violating the press laws. They will be charged, like the [opposition party] CUD leaders, for treason,” the London daily The Independent reported. Treason is punishable by death in Ethiopia.

“CPJ is appalled that Ethiopian authorities are considering using such an outrageous charge against members of the press,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “We urge the Ethiopian government to release all detained journalists, and to end its campaign of intimidation designed to shut down the private press.”

Four journalists turned themselves in to the police on Wednesday, after their names appeared on a list of people, published by state-owned media, whom the government plans to prosecute for attempting to “violently undermine the constitutional order in the country.” They are Zekarias Tesfaye, publisher of the private, Amharic-language weekly Netsanet; Dereje Habtewolde, deputy editor of Netsanet; Fassil Yenealem, publisher of the Amharic-language weekly Addis Zena, and Wosonseged Gebrekidan, editor-in-chief of Addis Zena.

Two editors of the private, Amharic-language weekly Hadar who were arrested on November 2 are also in detention. Dawit Kebede, editor-in-chief of Hadar, and deputy editor Feleke Tibebu are being held at the central prison in Addis Ababa. According to local sources, the editors appeared in court on Monday as part of a large group of political detainees. The group, which included senior opposition members and local leaders, were denied bail and returned to jail until November 22 but they were not charged.

The government’s wanted list included 17 publishers and editors of eight private, Amharic-language weekly newspapers, in addition to opposition leaders, the heads of the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association and local representatives of the international charity Action Aid, many of whom are already in jail. It also included the president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA), Kifle Mulat. State media have disseminated photographs of many of these journalists, and have called on the public to tell police their whereabouts.

Authorities have also used state-owned media to launch a smear campaign against broadcasters Voice of America (VOA) and Germany’s Deutsche-Welle. Both broadcast local-language news programs into Ethiopia via shortwave, and are a popular source of information in a country which has no local independent radio stations. Today, the state-owned Ethiopian Herald published an article accusing VOA, Deutsche Welle Radio and the private press of “promoting the destructive missions of opposition parties.”
ctor of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We call on Ethiopian authorities to stop harassing and intimidating Gudu immediately.”