Another journalist faces antistate charge

April 20, 2006

His Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
C/O The Embassy of Ethiopia
3506 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008

Via facsimile: 202-587-0199 / 587-0195

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the imprisonment of Goshu Moges, a veteran journalist arrested in February in what police described as a crackdown on terrorists linked to opposition parties. We are seeking further information about the evidence against him.

Chief Prosecutor Shemelis Kemal told CPJ today that federal prosecutors have charged Moges with seeking to “overthrow, modify or suspend the constitution,” under article 238 of the penal code. This charge was not previously made public. Fourteen other jailed journalists face the same charge, as do opposition leaders and civil society activists. Moges will be tried separately, with his first hearing scheduled next week, Kemal said.

Moges publishes and contributes to the Amharic-language weekly newspaper Lisane Hezeb and a monthly magazine of the same name. He was arrested on February 19, the day before police released a statement claiming to have arrested “the leadership and executors of a clandestine group that was preparing to unleash armed urban terrorism and assault.” It is unclear how many people were detained in the sweep.

Moges has been denied bail since his arrest, according to CPJ sources. Ethiopian authorities have not publicly produced any evidence linking him to violent activities, these sources said.

While not explicitly banned by the government, Lisane Hezeb has been unable to publish since November 2005, when authorities launched a massive crackdown on the private press. Before it stopped publishing, the newspaper ran very critical coverage of the disputed 2005 parliamentary elections, including articles claiming the elections were stolen, a local source told CPJ. Journalists say your government has pressured printing houses not to print many independent newspapers.

In December 2005, Moges took part in a small private meeting between local publishers and Justice Ministry officials, during which he criticized the government’s crackdown on the press, CPJ sources said. Moges had also publicly criticized the nominally private but pro-government newspaper Iftin, which was the first media outlet to announce the government’s “wanted list” of opposition leaders, journalists and civil society activists in November.

Since the crackdown began, Ethiopian authorities have jailed and charged 14 local journalists with antistate crimes, including seeking to overthrow the constitution, treason, and genocide. Two more journalists, Abraham Gebrekidan of now-defunct Amharic-language weekly Politika, and Leykun Engeda, former editor of the Amharic-language weekly Dagim Wonchif, are serving lengthy prison terms under Ethiopia’s repressive press law.

According to CPJ records, Moges himself was imprisoned several times in the 1990s in connection with his work for the critical Amharic-language newspaper and magazine Tobia, where he served first as editor and later as publisher. In 1998, he spent more than six months behind bars after Tobia published a report from a United Nations agency warning of a possible humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues world-wide, CPJ requests further information about the evidence against Goshu Moges. If the only offense he has committed is to have written critically about the government, then he should be released immediately.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your reply.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director