Ethiopia frees New York Times journalists after five-day detention

New York, May 22, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is relieved by news that Ethiopian authorities released three New York Times journalists on Monday after detaining them for five days.

Nairobi Bureau Chief Jeffrey Gettleman, photographer Vanessa Vick, and videographer Courtenay Morris were arrested May 16 by soldiers in the town of Degeh Bur, the Times reported today on its Web site. The three were reporting on the conflict between the Ethiopian government and separatist rebels in the Ogaden region bordering neighboring Somalia, according to the newspaper. Authorities repeatedly threatened the journalists, questioned them at gunpoint, refused to notify the U.S. embassy, confiscated their equipment, and, in one instance, kicked Vick in the back, the Times said. The journalists were moved among three different jails before being released from a prison in the capital, Addis Ababa, on Monday.

“We are relieved that Jeffrey Gettleman, Vanessa Vick, and Courtenay Morris have rejoined their colleagues and loved ones,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Their detention points out greatly deteriorating press conditions in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia was among the world’s leading jailers of journalists in 2006, according to CPJ research. It also banned eight newspapers, expelled two foreign reporters, and blocked a number of critical Web sites, according to CPJ research. Last month, Ethiopia’s High Court acquitted and set free eight editors and publishers of Amharic-language newspapers who had been jailed on antistate charges in a massive November 2005 government crackdown. Several other journalists are still being held.

This month, CPJ named Ethiopia the world’s worst backslider on press freedom.