CPJ urges Ethiopia to disclose information on detained journalists

September 10, 2007

His Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
c/o Embassy of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the United States
3506 International Drive, NW
Washington, D.C. 20008

Via Hand and Facsimile: (202) 587-0195

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to express our deep concern about the whereabouts, legal status and health of Eritrean journalists Tesfalidet Kidane Tesfazghi and Saleh Idris Gama of Eritrean state broadcaster Eri-TV. Official statements and videotape indicate that your government has been holding them incommunicado after their arrests by Kenyan authorities late last year during fighting in Somalia.

We call on you to ensure your government accounts for veteran cameraman Tesfazghi and producer Gama, to publicly disclose charges and evidence against them, and to provide confirmation of their well-being. 

A three-part video, titled “The Strategy of Sowing Discord by [President] Isaias [Afewerki’s] Eritrean Clique,” and posted in April on the Ethiopian government Web site Waltainfo, suggested the journalists were involved in military activities in Somalia, according to CPJ research. While journalists in Eritrea are often conscripted into military service, the video does not present any evidence linking the journalists to military activity.

Tesfazghi and Gama had been dispatched to Mogadishu by the Eritrean government, but later went on their own toward Kenya, reaching the border, according to an Amharic-language voiceover allegedly interpreting Gama’s comments from Tigrinya. The video also introduced Gama as “a reporter for Eritrean TV” who “reports on military-related issues” and “appears on TV wearing a military uniform with insignia,” according to CPJ research. “Until 2001, I was a member of the Eritrean armed forces. After that, I was transferred to the Eritrean Ministry of Information,” he is attributed to say.

Tesfazghi and Gama have apparently been held since late last year. According to an April statement from the Eritrean Foreign Ministry, Kenyan authorities stopped them at the border and held them for three weeks before handing them over to the Ethiopian-backed Somali transitional government on January 20.

Statements from your government acknowledge that a number of detainees in Somalia were later placed in Ethiopian government custody. In April, in response to international news reports about secret detentions, your government acknowledged that 41 people of 17 nationalities “captured” in Somalia had “indeed been brought over to Ethiopia” on suspicion of “terrorism,” according to an official statement of the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry. Twenty-nine prisoners were slated for release, with the remaining 12 scheduled for an April 16 appearance “before the competent Military Court,” according to the same source. Your government’s statements do not identify the detainees by name, but the videotape on your official site appears to confirm that Tesfazghi and Gama are among those being held.

Several Ethiopian officials, including Information Minister Zemedkun Tekle, Justice Ministry spokesman Ato Alemayu, and federal police spokesperson Demsash Hailu, declined to comment in response to CPJ’s inquiries. In July, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wahid Belay told CPJ:  “There is nothing new I can say on this issue. We stand by our previous statement and will issue another statement in time.”

As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, we call on you to use all your influence to ensure your government publicly account for the whereabouts, legal status, and health of Tesfazghi and Gama. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.


Joel Simon
Executive Director