2014 prison census 220 journalists jailed worldwide – Ethiopia is top world’s worst jailer of the press

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Ethiopia: 17

Saleh Idris Gama, Eri-TV

MEDIUM:
Television
CHARGE:
No Charge
IMPRISONED:
December 2006

Tesfalidet Kidane Tesfazghi, Eri-TV

MEDIUM:
Television
CHARGE:
No Charge
IMPRISONED:
December 2006

Tesfalidet, a producer for Eritrea’s state broadcaster Eri-TV, and Saleh, a cameraman, were arrested in late 2006 on the Kenya-Somalia border during Ethiopia’s invasion of southern Somalia.

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry first disclosed the detention of the journalists in April 2007 and presented them on state television as part of a group of 41 captured terrorism suspects. Though Eritrea often conscripted journalists into military service, the video did not present any evidence linking the journalists to military activity. The ministry pledged to subject some of the suspects to military trials but did not identify them by name. In a September 2011 press conference with exiled Eritrean journalists in Addis Ababa, the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Saleh and Tesfalidet would be freed if investigations determined they were not involved in espionage, according to news reports and journalists who participated in the press conference.

But Tesfalidet and Saleh had not been tried by late 2014, and authorities disclosed no information about legal proceedings against them, according to local journalists. Authorities also did not disclose any information about their health or whereabouts.

Woubshet Taye, Awramba Times

MEDIUM:
Print
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
June 19, 2011

Police arrested Woubshet, 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, CPJ International Press Freedom AwardeeDawit Kebede, fled the country in November 2011 in fear of being arrested; thenewspaper is published online from exile.

Government spokesman 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.

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.

Authorities have transferred Woubshet between several prisons, including the remote detention facility in the town of Ziway, about 83 miles southeast of the capital, according to local journalists and the Awramba Times. At Ziway, prison officials placed him in a section for political prisoners known as “chelema bete,” 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 private newspaperEthio-Midhar.

Local journalists said Woubshet contracted a kidney infection while in Ziway, likely by drinking contaminated water. In October 2014, authorities transferred him to Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, where he finally received medical treatment and where he remained late in the year.

Woubshet published in September 2014 a book of essays written in prison calledThe Voice of Freedom, detailing his trial and the challenges Ethiopian journalists face. Police authorities restricted visits by friends and family after the book was released, local journalists said.

In October 2013, Woubshet was honored with the Free Press Africa Award at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards in Cape Town, South Africa.

Reeyot Alemu, Freelance

MEDIUM:
Print
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
June 21, 2011

Ethiopian security forces arrested Reeyot, a prominent, critical columnist for the leading independent weekly Feteh, at an Addis Ababa high school where she taught English. Authorities raided her home and seized documents and other materials before taking her into custody at the Maekelawi federal detention center.

Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal said Reeyot was among several people accused of planning terrorist attacks on infrastructure, telecommunications, and power lines in the country with the support of an unnamed international terrorist group and Ethiopia’s neighbor, Eritrea, according to news reports. Authorities filed terrorism charges against Reeyot in September 2011, according to local journalists.

The High Court sentenced Reeyot in January 2012 to 14 years in prison for planning a terrorist act; possessing property for a terrorist act; and promoting a terrorist act. The conviction was based on emails she had received from pro-opposition discussion groups; reports she had sent to the U.S.-based opposition news site Ethiopian Review; and unspecified money transfers from her bank account, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ.

CPJ believes Reeyot’s conviction is due to columns she wrote that accused authorities of governing by coercion, by (for example) allowing access to economic and educational opportunities only to those who were members of the ruling party, according to CPJ’s review of the translations in 2013. In the last column published before her arrest, she wrote that the ruling party had deluded itself in believing it held the legitimacy of popular support in the way of late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, according to local journalists.

In August 2012, the Supreme Court overturned Reeyot’s conviction on the planning and possession charges, but upheld the charge of promoting terrorism. The court reduced her sentence to five years. In January 2013, the Ethiopian Court of Cassation, the last resort for legal appeals in Ethiopia, rejected Reeyot’s appeal, according to news reports. She is being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa.

In September 2013, prison officials limited Reeyot’s visitors to her parents, denying visits from her fiancé, relatives, and friends. The journalist waged a four-day hunger strike in protest. Kemal said that Reeyot was being disciplined for violating prison laws, but did not elaborate, according to news reports.

Reeyot’s health has deteriorated while in prison. According to a medical report shown to family members, she suffered from non-cancerous tumors in her breasts. Reeyot refused surgery in May 2014, saying she had not been allowed access to family or recovery care after receiving surgery in 2012.

In April 2013, Reeyot won the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in recognition of her courage and commitment to freedom of expression.

Eskinder Nega, Freelance

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
September 14, 2011

Ethiopian security forces arrested Eskinder, a prominent online columnist and former publisher and editor of now-shuttered newspapers, on vague accusations of involvement in a terrorism plot. The arrest came five days after Eskinder published a column on the U.S.-based news website EthioMedia that criticized the government for misusing the country’s sweeping anti-terrorism law to jail prominent journalists and dissident intellectuals.

CPJ believes the charges are part of a pattern of government persecution of Eskinder in reprisal for his coverage. In 2011, police detained Eskinder and threatened him in connection with his online columns that drew comparisons between the Egyptian uprising and Ethiopia’s 2005 pro-democracy protests, according to news reports. His coverage of the Ethiopian government’s repression of the 2005 protests landed him in jail for 17 months on anti-state charges at the time. After his release in 2007, authorities banned his newspapers and denied him licenses to start new ones. He was first arrested in September 1993 in connection with his articles in the Amharic weekly Ethiopis, one of the country’s first independent newspapers, about the government’s crackdown on dissent in Western Ethiopia, according to CPJ research.

Shortly after Eskinder’s 2011 arrest, state television portrayed the journalist as a spy for “foreign forces” and accused him of having links with the banned opposition movement Ginbot 7, which the Ethiopian government designated a terrorist entity. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal accused the detainee of plotting “a series of terrorist acts that would likely wreak havoc.” Eskinder consistently proclaimed his innocence, but was convicted on the basis of a video of a public town hall meeting in which he discussed the possibility of a popular uprising in Ethiopia if the ruling party did not deliver democratic reform, according to reports.

In July 2012, a federal high court judge in Addis Ababa sentenced Eskinder to 18 years in prison, according to local journalists and news reports. Five exiled journalists were convicted in absentia at the same time.

Also in 2012, a U.N. panel found that Eskinder’s imprisonment was “a result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” according to a reportpublished in April 2013.

In May 2013, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal and upheld the sentence. Eskinder was being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, with restricted visitation rights.

In January 2014, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishersawarded him its annual Golden Pen of Freedom award.

Yusuf Getachew, Ye Muslimoch Guday

MEDIUM:
Print
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
July 20, 2012

Police officers raided the Addis Ababa home of Yusuf, editor of the now-defunct Ye Muslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs), as part of a broad crackdown on journalists and news outlets reporting on protests staged by Ethiopian Muslims. The Muslims were demonstrating against government policies they said interfered with their religious freedom. The government sought to link the protesters to Islamist extremists and tried to suppress coverage by arresting several local andinternational journalists and forcing publications to close down, according to local journalists and news reports.

After Yusuf’s arrest, other Ye Muslimoch Guday journalists went into hiding, and the publication ceased operations, local journalists told CPJ.

Yusuf spent weeks in pre-trial custody at the Maekelawi federal detention center without access to his family and limited contact with his lawyer, according to local journalists.

In October 2012, he was formally charged under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Law with plotting acts of “terrorism [and] intending to advance a political, religious, or ideological cause,” according to local journalists. Yusuf told the court he had been beaten in custody, local journalists told CPJ.

Prosecutors accused Yusuf of inciting violence in columns in Ye Muslimoch Gudayby alleging that the government-appointed Supreme Council for Muslim Affairs was corrupt and lacked legitimacy, according to local journalists and court documents obtained by CPJ. The prosecution also used as evidence Yusuf’s CDs with Islamic teachings even though these were widely available in markets, according to local journalists.

The editor is being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa. The trial was ongoing in late 2014.

Solomon Kebede, Ye Muslimoch Guday

MEDIUM:
Print
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
January 17, 2013

Police arrested the managing director of the now-defunct Ye Muslimoch Guday(Muslim Affairs), as part of a broad crackdown on journalists and news outlets reporting on peaceful protests staged by Ethiopian Muslims against government policies they said interfered with their religious freedom. The government sought to link the protesters to Islamist extremists and attempted to suppress coverage by arresting several local and international journalists and forcing publications to close down, according to local journalists and news reports.

Solomon was held at the Maekelawi federal detention center for weeks without access to his family and with limited contact with his lawyer, according to local journalists.

A few weeks after his arrest, Solomon was formally charged under the Ethiopian anti-terrorism law, according to local journalists. Authorities have not disclosed any evidence against him. He is currently being held at Kilinto Prison in Addis Ababa and his trial is ongoing in late 2014, according to local journalists.

Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, Addis Guday

MEDIUM:
Print
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Edom Kassaye, Freelance

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Tesfalem Waldyes, Freelance

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Abel Wabella, Zone 9

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Atnaf Berhane, Zone 9

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Befekadu Wabella, Zone 9

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Mahlet Fantahun, Zone 9

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Natnail Feleke, Zone 9

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Zelalem Kibret, Zone 9

MEDIUM:
Internet
CHARGE:
Anti-state
IMPRISONED:
April 25 or 26, 2014

Police raided the homes and offices of six bloggers who wrote critical online commentaries in a collective called “Zone 9” along with two journalists, freelancers Tesfalem Waldeyes and Edom Kassaye. Three of the bloggers were picked up at their offices while the rest were arrested in their homes, according to local journalists. On April 26, 2014, authorities also arrested the senior editor of the Amharic weekly magazine Addis Guday, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis, the same sources told CPJ.

On April 27, 2014, a public prosecutor in the capital, Addis Ababa, accused the detainees of working with foreign human rights organizations and using social media to create instability in the country, according to news reports and local journalists. Authorities held the group at Maekelawi Federal Detention Center for nearly three months without charge, beyond the maximum period allowed under the anti-terrorism law, according to news reports. Some of those arrestedcomplained of serious mistreatment by investigators and said their defense lawyer was excluded from some of the proceedings.

On July 17, 2014, an Ethiopian court charged the nine journalists with inciting violence and terrorism, according to local journalists and news reports. Subsequent court hearings were adjourned more than a dozen times, and the trial had not concluded as of late 2014.

Soleyana Gebremicheal, another member of Zone 9, was charged in absentia, according to news reports. In an October 15, 2014, hearing, Edom Kassaye and Mahlet Fantahun told the court that prison wardens were treating them like terrorists even though their trial was ongoing and that authorities had restricted their family members’ visits.

The arrests followed an April 23, 2014, announcement on Facebook by the bloggers in which they said they would resume publishing after seven months of inactivity. They had suspended publishing after being harassed by security agents, according to the Zone 9 blog. Local journalists said the other detainees–Asmamaw and freelancers Tesfalem and Edom-may have been arrested on suspicion of being affiliated with the Zone 9 journalists. Edom had been approached on several occasions and asked about her relationship to the Zone 9 journalists and the support they received from outside organizations, the same sources said.

Zone 9 is an independent collective that publishes news and commentary. The group was formed in May 2012 in response to the evisceration of the independent press and the narrowing of the space for free expression. Its name is derived from Kality Prison, the main jail where Ethiopia’s political prisoners, including several journalists, are held, news reports said. With the motto “We Blog Because We Care,” the group voiced concerns over issues including political repression and social injustice. The Zone 9 blogs were frequently blocked inside Ethiopia, but gained a following with Ethiopians in the diaspora, according to local reports.

On November 5, 2014, the journalists’ lawyers appealed at the Supreme Court for their release on bail, but the motion was denied, defense lawyer Ameha Mehonnen told CPJ.

Temesghen Desalegn, Fact

MEDIUM:
Print
CHARGE:
Defamation
IMPRISONED:
October 13, 2014

The Federal High Court in the capital, Addis Ababa,convicted magazine owner Temesghen on October 13, 2014, of incitement, defamation, and false publication in connection with a 2012 defamation case, according to local journalists and news reports. On October 27, 2014, a court sentenced Temesghen to three years’ imprisonment, according to news reports.

The conviction stemmed from a series of opinion pieces published in Temesghen’s former news magazine Feteh (“Justice”) in 2012, according to the charge sheetreviewed by CPJ. The articles discussed the peaceful struggle of Ethiopian youth movements for political change, and two columns criticized alleged government efforts to violently suppress student protests and ethnic minorities, according to the charge sheet.

The court also charged in absentia Mastewal Birhanu, the former publisher ofFeteh, with inciting the public to violence by printing the magazine, according to the charge sheet.

Authorities briefly arrested Temesghen on August 23, 2012, in relation to the same articles but inexplicably dropped the charges and released the journalist five days later, according to news reports. In February 2013, a judge in the Federal High Court re-instated the charges without explanation. State prosecutors had announced in December 2012 that they would re-file unspecified charges against him, Temesghen told CPJ.

The government also ordered printers to block the distribution of Feteh in July 2012 in connection with a series of articles about the former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s health, local journalists said. Authorities blocked three other subsequent publications started by Temesghen, including Addis Times, Le’ilena(“Magnanimity”), and the latest, Fact, according to CPJ research.

The last edition of Fact was published in September 2014, local journalists told CPJ. In August 2014, the Justice Ministry accused Fact and five other independent weekly publications of inciting violence, publishing false news, and undermining public confidence in the government. All of the publications ceased printing.

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