CPJ confirms treason charge filed against another journalist

New York, July 17, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed that Solomon Aregawi, owner of the defunct Amharic-language newspaper Hadar, has been charged with antistate crimes in connection with his journalistic work. This raises the number of journalists jailed for their work in Ethiopia to 18 from 17, according to CPJ research. Three are serving lengthy sentences under Ethiopia’s repressive press law, while 15, including Aregawi, are on trial for antistate crimes, and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Aregawi, who inherited Hadar from his father, is in Kality prison in Addis Ababa, where at least 14 other journalists, dozens of opposition leaders, and civil society activists are also held.

“The latest charges further confirm that the government views critical journalism as a direct threat to its power. No government that acts in this manner can make any claim to being a democracy,” said Joel Simon, executive director of CPJ.

Aregawi was arrested in late 2005 in a crackdown on the press and the opposition following disputed parliamentary elections in May. He was charged in March along with 32 other defendants with conspiracy and “outrages against the constitution,” state prosecutor Shemelis Kemal confirmed today in an interview with CPJ. He pleaded not guilty, and has been denied bail. The charge against Aregawi stems from articles published in Hadar about the disputed elections, Kemal said. The prosecutor could not say if there were further charges against Aregawi.

Aregawi and the 32 charged with him are being tried separately from the dozens of opposition leaders, activists, and 14 journalists who were charged in December 2005, and who are currently on trial for wide-ranging antistate crimes and attempted “genocide.” However, Kemal linked the two cases, stating that the “nature of the crime” was the same. Aregawi is accused of publishing “seditious” articles as part of an alleged opposition plot to overthrow the government, the prosecutor told CPJ, adding that “different people with different capacities have been involved in the same grand design.”

In a survey of published materials submitted as evidence against the 14 jailed journalists who were charged in December, CPJ found nothing to substantiate charges of incitement to violence. Furthermore, no evidence has been presented that treason or genocide were planned or occurred. Kemal told CPJ today that he would introduce a new “series of seditious literature” as evidence in that trial this week.

The journalists charged in December include two from Hadar, Editor-in-chief Dawit Kebede, and deputy editor Feleke Tibebu. Aregawi’s publishing company, Aregawi Publishing and Advertising Enterprise, was listed as a defendant in the December indictment.

CPJ continues to investigate the case of another jailed journalist, Goshu Moges, who was arrested in February in what police described as a crackdown on terrorists linked to opposition parties. For more information, see CPJ’s letter of inquiry to Ethiopian authorities.

Read CPJ’s report on press freedom in Ethiopia.