Two more journalists sentenced to jail on old charges

New York, April 25, 2006—Two more journalists have been sentenced to jail on revived charges under Ethiopia’s 1992 press law, according to CPJ sources. Wosonseged Gebrekidan, who is already jailed on antistate charges, was sentenced to 16 months for defamation on April 18. Freelance writer Abraham Reta was sentenced yesterday to one year and jailed the same day.

Gebrekidan, editor of the now banned Addis Zena, is one of 14 journalists on trial with dozens of opposition leaders for allegedly trying to overthrow the constitutional order. They were arrested in a crackdown following antigovernment protests in November and could face a possible death sentence or life imprisonment under the country’s Criminal Code. Since the start of the crackdown, several journalists have also been sentenced to prison terms on old charges under the press law. Gebrekidan is already serving an eight-month sentence for defamation handed down in December . See CPJ’s December 7 news alert:

Many Ethiopian editors have numerous press law charges pending against them. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told a CPJ delegation in March that the government had decided several years ago not to prosecute under the press law, and that this was still government policy. This is despite CPJ documentation to the contrary. He said he was not aware that cases had been reactivated, and that he would look into the matter.

“The crackdown is clearly continuing, and the revival of old charges against journalists is part of that pattern,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to order an investigation into these charges which contradict his stated policy.”

Gebrekidan was given the 16-month sentence for a 2002 article which allegedly defamed the editor of Abyotawi Democracy, a publication of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The piece appeared in the Amharic language weekly Ethiop, of which he was editor at the time.

Reta, who freelanced for a number of different Amharic-language newspapers, was also jailed on an old charge. CPJ is still investigating the details of the case.