On July 7, 2002, Kassa, former editor-in-chief of the Amharic-language weekly Ethiop, was sentenced to two years in prison on two counts of violating Ethiopia’s restrictive Press Proclamation No. 34 of 1992 in three articles published in Ethiop in 1997. At the time of his conviction, Kassa had already been in jail since mid-May 2002 for missing a court hearing related to the charges.
The first charge, “disseminating false information that could incite people to political violence,” stemmed from two stories. The first reported that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) had fired personnel at the Debre Zeit air force base who previously worked for the former regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam and replaced them with pro-EPRDF workers; the second article alleged that unidentified individuals had failed in an attempt to bomb a popular hotel in the capital, Addis Ababa.
The second charge, “defamation,” resulted from another 1997 article in Ethiop,which alleged that a private investment company specializing in natural-resource development had connections in the EPRDF government. Accord-ing to a source at Ethiop, Kassa was charged even after the newspaper complied with a government order forcing the publication to print a letter of apology.