Ethiopian managing editor arrested

New York, August 26, 2008—The Committee to Protect journalists calls for the immediate release of Amare Aregawi, managing editor of the English- and Amharic-language newspaper Reporter, whohas been detained since August 22 in northern Ethiopia.

Policemen from Ethiopia’s former capital of Gonder arrested Aregawi at his office in the capital, Addis Ababa, at 2 p.m. local time on August 22, according to defense lawyer Abdu Ali. Aregawi was held overnight in an Addis Ababa police station before being transferred some 260 miles (415 kilometers) north to Gonder, he said.

The arrest was linked to a story on a labor dispute between the employees and the management of the government-run Dashen Brewery, a Reporter journalist told CPJ on condition of anonymity. The story quoted employees alleging unlawful dismissals and reported the management’s refusal to comment on the allegations, according to the same source. The board chairman of the brewery, an investment of the ruling party’s Endowment Fund for the Rehabilitation of Tigray, is Bereket Simon, a top senior advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

Aregawiwas not formally charged at a court hearing on Monday, but remains in the custody of police in Gonder, Ali told CPJ. A judge was not expected to rule on his petition for bail until September 1, after the public prosecutor requested additional time, he said.

“The arrest of Amare Aregawi highlights the Ethiopian government’s criminalization of critical coverage of issues of public interest,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on the Ethiopian authorities to release Aregawi immediately and abandon these crude practices of intimidation, which ultimately cow the press into self-censorship.”

Aregawi was the second Reporter journalist held in connection with the story. Teshome Niku, the author of the story, was arrested on June 30 and released on bail, according to Ali. Niku is still officially under investigation. The English version of Reporter is weekly; the Amharic version is biweekly.

Ethiopian authorities routinely use police detentions, threats, legal, and administrative restraints to stop the handful of independently owned media outlets from covering sensitive topics. In 2007, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Ethiopia the world’s worst backslider on press freedom.