Two journalists held as anti-government protests spread

New York, November 4, 2005—Ethiopian authorities have jailed at least two journalists and increased censorship of media coverage of anti-government protests, which today spread north of the capital Addis Ababa. Local sources told the Committee to Protect Journalists that police arrested two editors and a reporter from the independent Amharic-language weekly Hadar on Wednesday. Many other journalists have gone into hiding. Much of the independent press has stopped publishing on orders from the police, according to local sources.

“The government’s heavy-handed attempt to intimidate the independent press and suppress news of the protests and deaths in Addis Ababa is unacceptable,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “We call on the Ethiopian authorities to release our colleagues immediately, and allow the media to report freely.”

Those arrested were Hadar editor-in-chief Dawit Kebede, deputy editor Feleke Tibebu, and a reporter. The reporter was later released. The editors are being held at Addis Ababa’s central prison, according to Tibebu’s brother, Yared Tibebu, who lives in the United States. Police also searched Tibebu’s home. The journalists have not been charged, local sources said.

The crackdown followed government threats on Tuesday to arrest leaders of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) and journalists it accused of being mouthpieces for the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy party. International news organizations say that more than 40 people have been killed this week in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters who accuse Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of rigging polls in May which returned him to power.

Police prevented the government-owned printing press from printing private newspapers, most of which failed to appear on newsstands this week, according to local sources. Police ordered the private weekly Ethiop to stop printing on Tuesday night, and arrested the newspaper’s technical assistant Zerihune Tsegaye. He was later released without charge.

Security forces detained family members of journalists who are in hiding, CPJ sources said. Police looking for Ethiop publisher and EFJA executive member Sisay Agena arrested his wife, Helen Seyum, on Wednesday. She was released without charge on Thursday, according to a CPJ source. Also on Wednesday, police arrested the mother of newspaper owner Serkalem Fassil, who is in hiding with her journalist husband Iskinder Nega. Police also detained Nega’s mother. Both women were released without charge on Thursday. Fassil owns the Amharic-language weeklies Asqual, Menilik, and Satanaw .

Medical workers who gave information about casualties to the press have also been detained, sources told CPJ. It is unclear where they are being held.

On Wednesday, CPJ condemned government threats to arrest journalists, and official statements that could endanger independent reporters. To read more, see CPJ’s November 2 alert.