CPJ delegation meets with Ethiopian ambassador to the U.S.

Washington, December 22, 2005—A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists that met today with the Ethiopian ambassador to the United States expressed outrage at the jailing of at least 16 journalists and demanded their immediate release.

“Ethiopia and Eritrea are by far Africa’s worst jailers of journalists in 2005,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator, Julia Crawford, told ambassador Kassahun Ayele. “They trail only China and Cuba on CPJ’s annual list of the world’s worst jailers of journalists.”

In addition to Crawford, the delegation included CPJ board member Gwen Ifill and Washington representative Frank Smyth.

The ambassador said that he did not have detailed information about the charges brought against the journalists.

The crackdown followed a wave of antigovernment protests in early November when the opposition accused the government of rigging elections in earlier this year.

On Wednesday, authorities formally charged 131 people, including 21 journalists and the president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association, with involvement in an alleged attempt to overthrow the government by force.

A CPJ source present at Wednesday’s court hearing told CPJ that five journalists of Ethiopian descent who work for the Voice of America’s Amharic service in Washington, D.C., were charged in absentia. Ambassador Ayele denied that the VOA journalists had been charged but VOA issued a statement today in Washington confirming the charges against its staff members. For more information see CPJ’s December 21 alert:

Besides at least 14 journalists jailed in the crackdown, two more journalists were sentenced to prison terms in December on old charges under Ethiopia’s restrictive press law. For more information about their cases, see CPJ’s December 12 alert.