Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye (CPJ/Awramba Times)
Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye (CPJ/Awramba Times)

Ethiopia accuses two jailed journalists of terrorism plot

New York, June 29, 2011–The Ethiopian government today publicly today accused an editor and a columnist of involvement in a terrorism plot, according to news reports and local journalists. Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the leading Awramba Times newspaper and Reeyot Alemu, columnist for the weekly Feteh, have been held incommunicado under Ethiopia’s far-reaching anti-terrorism law since last week. 

The anti-terrorism law criminalizes writing the government deems favorable to groups and causes it labels as “terrorists,” including banned political opposition party Ginbot 7. This is the first use of the law against journalists.

Today, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal announced in a press conference in the capital, Addis Ababa, that Taye and Alemu were among nine people arrested on suspicion of organizing a terrorist network. The group was also accused of planning attacks on infrastructure, telecommunications, and power lines in the country, according to news reports. Kemal accused the nine of having links with an unnamed international terrorist group and Ethiopia’s neighbor, Eritrea, according to news reports. Neither journalist has yet been charged, pending investigations, according to Kemal.

“These accusations against Woubshet Taye and Reeyot Alemu must be viewed in light of the Ethiopian administration’s longstanding practice of using trumped-up charges to silence and jail critical independent journalists,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “It is outrageous that a government spokesman should publicly accuse journalists of terrorism when they have not been charged with any crime and are unable to respond because they are in detention. They should be freed immediately.”

In an interview with Bloomberg News, Kemal said the arrests of the two journalists had “nothing to do with viewpoints they have published.” Alemu had recently criticized the ruling party’s public fundraising method for a major dam project on the Nile, and Taye has critically covered local politics as the deputy editor of his newspaper.

Last week, Kemal told CPJ no journalists were incarcerated in Ethiopia, which is not true, according to CPJ research. Six journalists are currently behind bars in Ethiopia, two on vague criminal charges and four on vague terrorism accusations, including Taye and Alemu, according to CPJ research. Ethiopia is the second leading African jailer of journalists, behind Eritrea.