Terrorists? A look at two jailed Ethiopian journalists

By Tom Rhodes/CPJ East Africa Consultant on July 20, 2011 3:23 PM ET

At the end of June, Ethiopia's Anti-Terror Task Force arrested nine people on charges of attempting to "destroy electrical and telecommunication infrastructures" with support from Ethiopia's arch-enemy, Eritrea. Held under Ethiopia's far-reaching antiterrorism law, only four of the suspects' names have so far been revealed and two of them happen to be journalists

Taye (Awramba Times)

Dawit Kebede, managing editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times and a 2010 CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner, said he was stunned by the news. His longtime university friend and colleague, Awramba Times Deputy Editor Woubshet Taye is one of the suspects.  "I have never been so surprised in my life and the same applies to the rest of our staff," Kebede told me. He called Woubshet "a stickler for the rule of law. I cannot think of a less likely terrorist."

Temesgen Desalegn, editor of another independent weekly, Feteh (meaning "Justice"), was also shocked to discover his columnist, Reeyot Alemu, was arrested for terrorism. "Yes Reeyot was a critical writer but a terrorist? You could never read anything in her articles that would convey any antistate tendencies," Desalegn told me.

Kebede has known his friend and colleague Woubshet Taye for 11 years since their days studying journalism together at Unity University in the capital, Addis Ababa. Kebede and Taye started working together in 2004, as Taye became a senior reporter for the now-defunct private weekly, Hadar. Taye, like Kebede, has had his share of run-ins with Ethiopian authorities. Both were arrested during the government crackdown on the independent press following the disputed 2005 elections. An avid reader, Taye donated 200 books to Awramba Times when the publication was launched in 2008. But he almost resigned from Awramba Times during the May 2010 elections after the director of the state broadcasting authority accused him of inciting and misguiding the public. Taye and Kebede had written a piece a week earlier that raised questions about the lack of public enthusiasm for the May 2010 elections, which the ruling party swept.

Alemu (Feteh)

Alemu, 28, has worked primarily as a high school English teacher. For a short time, she served as editor of a private weekly, Addis Press, before the paper dissolved several months ago, said Desalegn, who recruited her to write a political column for Feteh. Even while working long hours as a journalist, he said, Alemu continued to teach. Just before her arrest, she was planning to marry and start a family. Her students and colleagues are in disbelief over the charges, Desalegn added.

Both Kebede and Desalegn fear the government is bringing the terrorism charges as a way to silence their publications. Knowing that a direct closure of either publication would lead to both local and international condemnation, "the arrest of Reeyot works as a warning light for us to censor our reporting," Desalegn said.

Both publications have faced intimidation from authorities and been targeted in smear campaigns by pro-government and government-controlled state media. Since Feteh started in 2008, authorities have questioned Desalegn twice and filed a staggering 41 lawsuits against him. Desalegn and Kebede have decided to continue publishing as best they can under the circumstances.

Beyond vague public accusations, the Ethiopian government has yet to present any evidence against Taye and Alemu. The journalists are expected to remain in jail for at least another month after a magistrate this week granted prosecutors an extension  of 28 days to pursue "investigations,"  according to local journalists.


"Friendly tyrant" Meles Zenawi is trying to negate Newton`s law which states for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is state terrorism in Ethiopia headed by Meles Zenawi. An Egyptian friend of mine discussing about Sharia law stated if Sharia law was to be implemented it will be the finger of Mubarek which should be cut first. He told me this long years before the World was informed about the great thief of Africa - Mubarek with 40-70 billions in US dollar stolen from the Egyptian people. As long as Meles is in power, there will be no peace in Ethiopia but also in the region. TPLF under the leadership of Meles is the al Quadia of the Horn of Africa and will be for sure a great menace not only for Ethiopia but also for the region.

Now I'm really tired of this "CPJ" blindly accusing the government just because the suspects are journalists. You claim the government's vague accusations while you have come up with nothing to their defense. While Ethiopia's human rights track record doesn't always seem good, I still can't feel sorry for the journalists in question. Why?
1. Ethiopian journalists fill their whole newspaper with complains and anti government propaganda. (This might not hold true to all, but I'm fairly confident concerns the most)
While exposing wrong doings by the government is good journalism, complaining about everything and then blaming the government solely for everything is misuse of your profession at the very least; or even terrorism when the propaganda is likely to incite public unrest and chaos.
2. Journalism by profession is only to be concerned with reporting the truth by someone objective enough to see through the masquerade into the truth. Our so called journalists back home are far from that. Which leaves me to believe that they are either some idiots who happen to pick up journalism not for the love or respect of the profession but as any other job that pays the rent with no regard to it's ethics; or they are working with either one of the armed separatist militant groups whom, by their own actions, have proven to be nothing but peace hating domestic terrorists. Either way, We all should wait for the law of a sovereign country to take it's course.

Above writer is "tired" of CPJ because CPJ writes about Ethiopian journalists falsely accused of terrorism.

Government barking dogs are routinely unleashed on anyone who is even mildly critical of the regime. Thus critical reporting is equated with terrorism.

The other method government spies and disinformants use is setup some false, hypothetical, perfect standard of journalism that they then go on to say no Ethiopian journalism measures up to. The truth is that those who rule the country and their minions are barely literate let alone tell the world what good standards of reporting are.

Thank you Mr. Rhodes for reporting on the plight of these courageous Ethiopian journalists. Expect to be attacked by regime hired guns for shining light on what's going on Ethiopia.

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