Ethiopians face antistate charges; VOA staffers among those named

New York, December 21, 2005—Twenty-one Ethiopian journalists and the president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association were charged today with involvement in an alleged attempt to overthrow the government, according to CPJ sources.

Among those charged were five journalists of Ethiopian descent who work in Washington, D.C., for the Voice of America’s Amharic-language service, according to a CPJ source present at today’s hearing. The five were charged in absentia.

“These charges are shocking and outrageous,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “They strike at the heart of Ethiopia’s journalist community by criminalizing essential work of the press. The government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is using legal means to suppress dissent, but it is increasingly behaving like an outlaw regime.”

The government announced formal charges against 131 political detainees in all today.

Fourteen of the journalists charged today are in custody; they were detained in a vast crackdown launched after antigovernment protests in early November. Most of the journalists charged work for private, Amharic-language weekly newspapers.

In its charge sheet, the government accused freelance journalist Iskinder Nega of being a leader of the opposition CUD party, a source told CPJ. Precise details about other charges were not immediately available.

The journalists charged today are: Nega; Fassil Yenealem, publisher of Addis Zena; Wosonseged Gebrekidan, editor of Addis Zena; Sisay Agena, publisher of Ethiop; Andualem Ayle, editor of Ethiop; Serkalem Fassil, publisher and manager of Satanaw, Menilik, Asqual; and Wonakseged Zeleke, editor of Asqual.

Also charged: Zelalem Gebre, editor of Menilik (in absentia); Nardos Meaza, editor of Satanaw; Dawit Fassil, deputy editor of Satanaw; Zekarias Tesfaye, publisher of Netsanet; Abiy Gizaw, editor of Netsanet (in absentia); Dereje Habewolde, deputy editor of Netsanet; Mesfin Tesfaye, editor of Abay; Dawit Kebede, editor of Hadar; Feleke Tibebu, deputy editor of Hadar; and Kifle Mulat, EFJA (in absentia)

The VOA staffers charged in absentia were: Nigussie Mengesha, Addisu Abebe, Tizita Belachew, Adanech Fessehaye, and Solomon Kifle.