Police arrested Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times, after raiding his home in the capital, Addis Ababa, and confiscating documents, cameras, CDs, and selected copies of the newspaper, according to local journalists.
The outlet’s top editor, Dawit Kebede, fled the country in November 2011 in fear of being arrested, and has since returned to Ethiopia, according to three Addis-based journalists who spoke to CPJ.
The government spokesman at the time, Shimelis Kemal, said Woubshet was among several people accused of planning terrorist attacks on infrastructure, telecommunications, and power lines with the support of an unnamed international terrorist group and Ethiopia’s neighbor, Eritrea, according to news reports. In January 2012, a court in Addis Ababa sentenced Woubshet to 14 years in prison, news reports said.
Ethiopian authorities charged Woubshet along with four others including fellow journalists Reeyot Alemu and Elias Kifle, according to media reports.
CPJ believes Woubshet’s conviction was in reprisal for Awramba Times‘ critical coverage of the government. Prior to his arrest, Woubshet had written a column criticizing what he saw as the ruling party’s tactics of weakening and dividing the media and the opposition, Dawit told CPJ. Woubshet had been targeted in the past. He was detained for a week in November 2005 during the government’s crackdown on news coverage of unrest that followed disputed elections.
Woubshet did not appeal his conviction and applied for a pardon, according to local journalists. In August 2013, the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice rejected the request for a pardon, the Awramba Times reported.
In 2016, Woubshet filed a separate appeal with the Ethiopian Court of Cassation, the last resort for legal appeals, and sought to have his sentence reduced to five years, according to Belay Manaye and Befekadu Hailu, two Ethiopian journalists who have been following the case.
In June 2017, the courts rejected Woubshet’s appeal, his last opportunity to have the sentence reduced, Beleay and Befekadu told CPJ.
Authorities have transferred Woubshet between several prisons. When he was first detained at Ziway, located approximately 83 miles south of the capital, after his arrest, prison officials placed him in a section for political prisoners known as “chelema bete,” Amharic for “dark and closed,” where communication and access to open air are limited, according to local journalists and family members who visited him. In February 2014, prison authorities transferred him temporarily to solitary confinement for releasing a letter describing prison conditions, which was published in the privately owned newspaper Ethio-Midhar.
Woubshet published a book of essays written in prison called The Voice of Freedom in September 2014, which included details of his trial and the challenges Ethiopian journalists face. Police authorities restricted visits by friends and family after the book was released, local journalists said. Befekadu told CPJ in 2017 that visits were no longer restricted though security personnel would intrude on their privacy.
In October 2013, Woubshet was honored with the Free Press Africa Award at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards in Cape Town, South Africa.
Belay said that he visited Woubshet at Ziway prison in August 2017. Woubshet has a persistent kidney condition, contracted in 2014, and the prison has not provided proper treatment, according to Belay and Befekadu.
CPJ called and emailed Ethiopia Information Minister Negeri Lencho and called government spokesperson Mohamed Seid on multiple occasions in September and October 2017 for comment on this and other cases of imprisoned journalists. The minister and spokesperson did not answer nor reply to text messages.