Two more journalists jailed on old charges

New York, December 12, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged that two more journalists have been jailed on criminal charges that have been revived since a crackdown on the press in November. The convictions last week relating to articles published up to seven years ago bring the number of journalists now behind bars in Ethiopia to at least 15, according to CPJ research.

“It is scandalous that Ethiopian authorities have persisted in using outdated and illegitimate charges to send these journalists to jail,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “We call on authorities to release our Ethiopian colleagues immediately, and to work towards removing criminal penalties for press offenses.”

Getachew Simie, former editor-in-chief of the defunct Amharic-language weekly Agere, was sentenced on December 7 to three months in prison for criminal defamation. Leykun Engeda, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the Amharic-language weekly Dagim Wonchif, was sentenced on December 9 to 15 months in prison for allegedly publishing false news.

Thirteen journalists have been detained since renewed anti-government protests in early November. They have been accused of treason, held without charge, and denied bail. On December 6, one of the detained journalists, Wosonseged Gebrekidan, was sentenced to eight months in jail, in an unrelated case, for allegedly defaming a former diplomat in a 2002 opinion piece. For more information, see CPJ’s December 7 alert.

Simie was arrested on December 6 and is now in Kality prison on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa, according to a CPJ source. The case against him stemmed from an article printed in Agere in 1998, the source said. Simie has since become a reporter for the Amharic-language weekly Addis Admas. The article described alleged financial mismanagement and corruption at a state-owned textile factory, CPJ sources said. It is unclear who brought the defamation suit against Simie.

The case against Engeda stemmed from an article published in Dagim Wonchif in 1999 about a rebel organization known as the Ethiopian Patriotic Front, according to a CPJ source. Engeda has since left the newspaper and launched a new one, Mechachal. The article alleged that the rebels had scored a military victory against Ethiopian troops. Engeda was also sent to Kality prison after he was sentenced.