New York, July 25, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Thursday’s ruling in Ethiopia to release on bail two journalists imprisoned on pre-trial detention for the last 15 months on vague criminal charges.
Magistrates Redaei Belay, Yirga Aycheh, and Zerihun Aragaw of the Lideta branch of the Federal Court in the capital Addis Ababa ordered the release of editor Haileyesus Worku and producer Abdulsemed Mohammed of the ruling EPRDF-controlled national broadcaster Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency (ERTA) from Kality Prison on bail of 5,000 birr (US$290) each, according to local journalists and news reports. The judges forbade Worku and Mohammed from leaving the country pending a verdict in the case, the same sources said.
The ruling followed public prosecutors’ amendment of the charges against the journalists from vague corruption allegations, a non-bailable offense, to copyright infringement, the sources said. ERTA General-Manager Zeray Asgedom ordered the arrests of Worku and Mohammed in April 2010 on accusations of illegally copying ERTA audiovisual materials to sell to a third, unnamed party.
A week after their arrests, Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon told CPJ that the journalists had been “caught red-handed,” but public prosecutors did not file a formal charge until June 2010, according to CPJ research. CPJ has questioned the validity of the charges in light of the Ethiopian government’s documented practice of using bogus criminal charges to silence critical journalists and the EPRDF’s censorship of ERTA by purging the publicly funded national broadcaster of senior professional journalists in favor of party loyalists. Worku and Mohammed have both been ERTA veterans for more than 10 years.
“We are relieved that, after enduring 15 months of imprisonment on questionable criminal charges, Haileyesus Worku and Abdulsemed Mohammed can prepare their defense in freedom,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “We call on the prosecutors to drop the charges altogether.”
With six other journalists behind bars, Ethiopia trails only Eritrea among the nations in Africa jailing the most journalists, according to CPJ research.