CPJ asks Rice to discuss Ethiopian press freedom

December 4, 2007
The Hon. Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Via Facsimile: 202 647-2283

Dear Secretary Rice,

In advance of your meeting with Ethiopian officials in Addis Ababa, the Committee to Protect Journalists would like to draw your attention to our concerns regarding press freedom conditions there.

You may know that 15 Ethiopian journalists were recently released from prison, but this development belies the country’s sustained record of contempt for independent media, which manifests itself in a variety of legal and administrative restraints. The 15 jailed journalists were sentenced on trumped-up charges such as genocide in connection with the media’s coverage of Ethopia’s 2005 post-election unrest.

On November 26, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission confirmed that the Amharic and Oromo language broadcasts of Voice of America and Deutche Welle to Ethiopia have been jammed for the past two weeks. Information Minister Berhane Hailu told CPJ that outside reports of the jamming were not credible.

CPJ is also concerned 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 the Ethiopian government has been holding them incommunicado since their arrest by Kenyan authorities as they attempted to enter Somalia late last year. In September, CPJ wrote a letter to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi inquiring about these journalists’ status, but did not receive a response. Foreign Ministry spokesman Wahid Belay told CPJ in July that he could not provide any information regarding this matter.

In addition, out of the 15 journalists released this year, at least seven felt compelled to flee the country following harassment and surveillance by government security forces. Three others have yet to receive publishing licenses to resume their work despite fulfilling all legal requirements necessary for publication. Journalists Sisay Agena, Serkalem Fassil, and Eskinder Nega applied for licenses to launch Lualawi and Habsheba newspaper since September but have yet to be approved.

The October launch of Ethiopia’s first private commercial radio station, Sherger Radio,and private weekly, Addis Neger–the first independent political publication since 2005–were encouraging signs that Ethiopia is concerned about strengthening its press freedom environment. In light of the strong ties America shares with Ethiopia, we urge you to engage the Ethiopian government on this issue in your upcoming visit. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Joel Simon
Executive Director