Journalist jailed on old charges

New York, January 3, 2007—Ethiopia’s Supreme Court has confirmed a 15-month prison sentence against a journalist who was out on bail, and sent him back to prison, according to CPJ sources. In a December 27 decision, the court ordered that Leykun Engeda, former editor of the defunct Amharic-language weekly Dagim Wonchif, should serve out the rest of his term for allegedly publishing false information in 1999.

This takes the number of journalists jailed in Ethiopia to at least 19, making it Africa’s second biggest jailer of journalists after neighboring Eritrea.

Engeda was originally sentenced and jailed in December 2005, at the start of a widespread government crackdown on the press and opposition, but was freed on bail in early 2006, pending a decision on his appeal, according to CPJ sources. His sentence stems from a 1999 article about a rebel organization known as the Ethiopian Patriotic Front.

Engeda has a further 13 months to serve, according to one CPJ source. CPJ’s repeated attempts to reach the State Prosecutor for more information were unsuccessful this week.

“It is outrageous that Ethiopia, which has become one of the worst places in Africa for press freedom, is continuing to jail journalists on spurious charges dating back many years,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge a speedy and transparent reform of the country’s laws to remove criminal charges for press offenses, and the immediate release of all journalists.”

Many of the jailed journalists have been in prison for more than a year. Fifteen are charged with serious antistate crimes, meaning that they could face a possible death sentence. The other four, including Engeda, were jailed on old charges under the country’s 1992 Press Law.