Jailed journalist sentenced to eight months in prison

New York, December 7, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the eight-month jail sentence for criminal libel handed down by the Federal High Court to a journalist already in prison as part of Ethiopia’s ongoing crackdown on the independent media.

On Tuesday, the court convicted Wosonseged Gebrekidan, former editor of the Amharic-language weekly Ethiop, of defaming former diplomat Habtemariam Seyoum in a 2002 opinion piece. A CPJ source said that Gebrekidan’s lawyer was not told of the hearing and was not in court for the sentencing.

Gebrekidan, who has since become editor of the Amharic-language weekly Addis Zena, did not write the opinion piece, CPJ sources said. He was sentenced under Ethiopia’s 1992 Press Proclamation, which holds editors responsible for the content of their newspapers. Like many Ethiopian editors, Gebrekidan has several criminal charges relating to his work pending against him; CPJ research indicates that such charges generally take years to come to court.

The Ethiop article criticized Seyoum for comments he made praising Ethiopia’s diplomatic strategy toward neighboring Eritrea, including its promise to uphold peace accords that ended a devastating two-year border war between the two countries in 2000.

Gebrekidan is one of at least 13 journalists jailed in Ethiopia since November 2, 2005, in a wide-reaching crackdown on the private press following anti-government protests. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has threatened to charge those detained, including journalists, opposition leaders, and members of civil society, with treason, which is punishable by death. The detained journalists have repeatedly been denied bail.

“We are outraged at the prison sentence given to Wosonseged Gebrekidan, and at the continued imprisonment of at least 12 other journalists,” said Ann Cooper, Executive Director of CPJ. “We call on the Ethiopian authorities to release all of them and stop this disastrous crackdown on the media.”