Internet reporter held without charge in Ethiopia

New York, January 30, 2006—Ethiopian security forces have detained a correspondent for the U.S.-based Web site Ethiopian Review, its publisher Elias Kifle said today. Journalist Frezer Negash has been held without charge in Addis Ababa since Friday, Kifle told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“We are disturbed that Frezer Negash has joined at least 16 other journalists in jail in Ethiopia,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “We call on Ethiopian authorities to release her immediately.”

Kifle and two other CPJ sources said that Ethiopian officials had recently threatened Negash over her work for the Web site, which is extremely critical of the government.

Kifle said that Negash was accredited by the Ethiopian government as an Ethiopian Review correspondent. She also ran for parliament as an independent candidate in Ethiopia’s May 2005 elections, but was defeated by a candidate from the opposition CUD party. Local sources told CPJ that Negash was known in the journalistic community in Addis Ababa, and that she attended government and opposition press conferences.

The government launched a crackdown on the press in November following protests over the disputed May elections. Fourteen detained journalists face charges of treason and genocide. Two more local journalists are serving jail sentences after being convicted of press offenses in December.

Kifle, who lives in the United States, is one of about a dozen journalists working for overseas media who were charged in absentia with treason and “trying to exert international pressure on the government with the explicit purpose of overthrowing the constitutional order,” according to a translation of the charge sheet obtained by CPJ. Five journalists working for the U.S. government-funded Voice of America radio in Washington, D.C., were also among those charged in absentia.

The government expelled Anthony Mitchell, The Associated Press correspondent in Addis Ababa, on January 21, a day after he reported on renewed clashes between police and protesters in the capital.

Earlier this month, two freelance journalists who were arrested during the crackdown were released from detention without charge, according to CPJ sources. Authorities accused Meles Geset and Samuel Tasew of aiding Sisay Agena, one of the journalists arrested and charged with treason, while he was still in hiding, according to CPJ sources. CPJ had not previously documented the arrests, and is investigating the circumstances behind them.