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" Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter."

- Thomas Jefferson

    many journalists were detained under the Press Law which was introduced in October 1992, 17 months after the government of Meles Zenawi came to power. Other people connected to these newspapers -- publishers, office managers, newspaper photographer, distributors and street-sellers -- have also been arrested. Over a dozen journalists have fled the country, alleging that they have been persecuted for their professional journalistic activities and their published opinions.

  The imprisoned journalists mostly  held in Addis Ababa, either temporarily in the police Central Investigation Centre (known as Maikelawi or the Third and Six Police Station) or after court remand or sentencing in the Central Prison (known as Karchele). Dozens more journalists arrested in the past year were provisionally released on bond but could still face prosecution and imprisonment.




                             Tesfaye Deressa
Songwriter, poet and journalist, Tesfaye D. Kumsa was arrested on October 16, 1997 in a wave of arrests of journalists and political activists. Kumsa began his career as a high school English teacher; he also worked for Ethiopian Television as a senior programme producer, and for Ethiopian Radio, as a free-lancer. In 1994 he co-founded the newspaper Urji. He worked there as a writer and editor-in-chief until his arrest, when the paper went out of publication. The entire staff was charged with treason. Kumsa spent three years and eight months in jail. He was released in May 2001 and fled to Kenya. Kumsa came to Canada with his wife in February 2002. . Kumsa has participated in many seminars and workshops on journalism.


                  Bekele Garoma

Writer and journalist, Garuma B.Wakessa, was arrested on October 27, 1997 as part of a wave of arrests of journalists and political activists. Bekele has published various articles and studies on Oromo culture and society. As a journalist, he used to write mainly for Urji newspaper. He is also the general secretary of the banned Human Rights League. Wakessa was charged with treason, and remained in prison for more than three and a half years, and upon his release was forced to flee to Kenya. Now he is in Canada with his wife and children. Wakessa studied chemistry in Ethiopia, Russia and Germany.

       Yonas Gebremedhin

Yonas  Gebremedhin of Mebruk and Tarik News papers reporter and Photographer after he has been reportedly been subjected to severe torture,


Jailed since September 1998, without being formally charged. The authorities have not allowed his families and friends to visit him. Although   Some sources revel  he has been seen in the Hospital under  the heavy armed security guards, There are fears that he might have been executed in a secret detention.

    Ethiopian journalist gets green light to stay

Grady Semmens
Calgary Herald


Sunday, April 06, 2003

Months of nervous waiting are over for a prominent African journalist who is overjoyed he can continue living in Calgary after fleeing his homeland where he was persecuted for his outspoken beliefs.
Sisay Haile-Selassie, a former correspondent and senior producer for Ethiopia's national radio service, said he is greatly relieved after being granted asylum by the Canadian government.
The news comes nine months after he chose not to return home after covering the G-8 Summit in Kananaskis last June out of fear he would be arrested as an enemy of the state.
"I am very, very happy. I am finally able to sleep peacefully at night," said the 33-year-old who was one of about a dozen African journalists who stayed in Calgary during the G-8.
The Immigration and Refugee Board granted Haile-Selassie refugee status after a March 12 hearing into his claims that he is concerned for his safety if he returns to Ethiopia.
The former host of two popular English-language radio shows, Haile-Selassie said he was harassed and threatened for voicing criticisms about Ethiopia's ruling party, the Tigray Peoples' Liberation Front.
After sharing information about government corruption with his colleagues in private media organizations and airing opinions about the government's handling of the recent war with neighbouring Eritrea, Haile-Selassie said government agents began following and questioning him.
He said he was afraid he may end up disappearing like other Ethiopian journalists and intellectuals who have criticized the government in recent years.
"I am glad the refugee board found that my fears of persecution are well-founded," he said.
"In Ethiopia, if you have a problem with the government, they make your life impossible. They follow you and intimidate you, and if that doesn't work, you will just disappear one day."
Some organizations have expressed concern about human rights abuses and lack of free expression in Ethiopia under the rule of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The organization Human Rights Watch says repression, arbitrary arrests and killings of students and intellectuals who don't agree with the government are commonplace in the country, while the France-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has labelled Zenawi a "predator of press freedom."
The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association in January denounced a set of press regulations being considered by the government -- including a code of ethics that can result in fines or imprisonment if they aren't followed -- as "draconian."
Ethiopian officials say they're aware of Haile-Selassie's defection and call his claims "nonsense."
"I can assure you the reasons have nothing to do with politics. Canada is an economically developed nation and apparently he feels he can have a better economic condition here," said Berhe, spokesman for the Ethiopian embassy in Ottawa.
"No one's life is in danger in Ethiopia because of political views, let alone a journalist who was sent abroad by the government to cover a story."
Haile-Selassie, who now works as a part-time parking lot attendant and lists a television set and a bed as his only possessions, disagrees.
"I was very well off in Ethiopia. I was friends with diplomats and had many opportunities. Nobody would choose to leave that unless they were in danger," he said.
With his future secure in Canada until he feels safe to return home, Haile-Selassie intends to continue voicing his opinions over the Internet and may put his experience to work studying foreign affairs.
"I feel very privileged to be protected by a peaceful country like Canada where human rights and the rule of law are taken very seriously," he said.

          Free Press

     Attack on Ethiopian Journalists
              2002  and  2003
                January 25
Daniel Abraha, Netsanet
Zekerias Tesfaye, Netsanet

Tesfaye and Abraha, publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively, of the Amharic-language weekly Netsanet, were charged with criminal defamation.

The charges stem from a January 18 Netsanet article alleging that Sheik Mohammed al-Amoudi, a wealthy businessman and owner of the Sheraton hotel in the capital, Addis Ababa, has connections with Osama bin Laden, suspected mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The story also claimed that authorities had arrested al-Amoudi for questioning. After the article was published, a representative of the businessman phoned Netsanet and asked the paper to print a retraction of the story, but the paper refused. Al-Amoudi then lodged a complaint with police.

Plainclothes police officers detained Tesfaye while he was eating lunch with friends at an Addis Ababa hotel. Local sources say that Tesfaye had not responded to an earlier police summons for fear that he might be harassed. After making a statement to police, he was charged and then released on a 5,000 birr bail (US$600). On January 31, Abraha was also charged for the same article after he responded to a police summons. He was also released after paying a 5,000 birr (US$600) bail.


Shimelis Asfaw, Ethio-Time

In early March, Asfaw, former editor-in-chief of the Amharic-language weekly Ethio-Time, appeared before an Addis Ababa court to face charges of disseminating fabricated information about the government and its officials that could affect public opinion, the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association reported.

The charges stem from a July 2001 Ethio-Time article alleging that one general in the Ethiopian army had been dismissed from his post, while another general was being detained by police at a secret location. Asfaw was released on a 2,000 birr (US$250) bail, and a hearing was scheduled for May 29. By years end, CPJ could not determine the status of the case.

March 1

Kebebew Gebyehu Filate, Tobia

Filate, editor-in-chief of the independent Amharic-language weekly Tobia, was charged under Press Proclamation No. 34 for inciting violence and defamation. Both charges stem from a 2001 Tobiaŭinterview with Wondosen Lema, the vice administrator for a prison in the North Shoa Zone in central Ethiopia, according to local sources. In the articles, Lema alleged that human rights violations were rife in the region, and that the zones justice minister, Dawit Argaw, was partly responsible for the regions poor administration. Filate appeared before an Addis Ababa court in early March. He was released on a 2,000 birr (US$250) bail.

March 8

Wosonseged Gebre Amlake, Ethiop

Amlake, deputy editor-in-chief of the Amharic-language weekly newspaper Ethiop and the affiliated monthly Ethiop magazine, was called to court to face charges of disseminating fabricated information that could affect public opinion, according to the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association.

The charges stem from a December 2001 Ethiop magazine article alleging that ethnic bias occurred during a personnel restructuring in the Ministry of Justice and in the police force, and that there was tension between police and the public prosecutor as a result. Amlake was released on bail of 2,000 birr (US$250). He was detained again in October in connection with the same article and was released a few days later on a 2,000 birr (US$250) bail. His case remained pending at years end.

March 15

Arega Wolde Kirkos Ayele, Tobia

Ayele, editor-in-chief of the independent, Amharic-language weekly Tobia, appeared before an Addis Ababa court in mid-March to face criminal defamation charges that had been filed against him in December 1999. The charges stemmed from two articles about the state-owned Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation published in the summer of 1999. Local sources say the articles criticized the companys management and reported that some workers had complained that a non-Ethiopian had been appointed to the post of general manager. Ayele was released on a 1,000 birr (US$120) bail. His case has been adjourned until 2003.

March 20
Melese Shine, Ethiop

Shine, editor-in-chief of the Amharic-language weekly Ethiop, appeared before an Addis Ababa court on March 20 to face two charges of violating Ethiopias Press Proclamation, including defaming the head of state and publishing an illegal article in collaboration with an outlaw.

The charges stem from two articles that appeared more than a year ago in Ethiop. Both stories were based on an interview with Col. Emiru Wonde, leader of an illegal opposition party, in which Wonde criticized Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. On March 26, Shine was granted bail of 10,000 birr (US$1,200). Unable to raise this sum, he remained in prison until June, when he was able to make bail.

                                  March 22

Berhanu Mamo, Abyssinia

Mamo, editor-in-chief of the defunct Amharic-language weekly Abyssinia, appeared before an Addis Ababa court to face charges of violating the Ethiopian Press Proclamation by publishing an article that could incite ethnic conflict. The article, titled Oromigna Speaking Generals Fall Under The Suspicion Ring of Tigrigna Speakers, appeared in 2001 in Abyssinia. Oromigna and Tigrigna are the languages spoken by two of Ethiopias largest ethnic groups. Mamo was released on a 1,000 birr (US$120) bail. His case remained pending.

                           March 26

Tsega Moges, Zare New

Moges, editor-in-chief of the Amharic-language weekly Zare New, was questioned by police about a press release printed in the February 23, 2002, issue of the paper from the Benishangul Liberation Front, a separatist ethnic group. The groups statement called on Ethiopians to fight the regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Moges was charged with inciting ethnic violence and released later that day on a 5,000 birr (US$620) bail pending trial.

                                     April 30

Asrat Wodajo, Seife Nebelbal

Wodajo, editor of the independent, Amharic-language weekly Seife Nebelbal, was jailed for failing to post bail after he was charged with publishing false information. The charge stemmed from an article Wodajo wrote that appeared in Seife Nebelbal in 1999 alleging that an official in the Oromia State regional administration had deserted his post and fled the country. Wodajo was released on May 23 after paying a 7,000 birr (US$800) bail.

May 17
Melese Shine, Ethiop

Shine, editor-in-chief of the Amharic- language weekly Ethiop, was jailed after failing to post bail for a charge of inciting the people to rebellion. The charge stemmed from a May 2001 article by Shine in which Abate Angore, secretary-general of the Ethiopian Teachers Association, criticized the governments handling of April 2001 student protests in the capital, Addis Ababa, during which more than 30 people were killed. Angore also said he believed that the government had a hand in provoking the riots.

The bail for the charge was 2,000 birr (US$250). At the time this charge was brought against him, Shine had already been in jail for nearly two months for failing to pay a 10,000 birr (US$1,200) bail from a previous charge. Shine was released from prison on June 25 after paying bail.

                                             July 7

Tewodros Kassa, Ethiop

                              July 17

Zegaye Haile, Genanaw

Haile, editor-in-chief of the private, Ahmaric-language paper Genanaw, was arrested and sentenced to an indefinite prison term for failing to post US$300 in bail after a prosecutor charged him with distributing false information in an article about prison conditions in the town of Nazareth. CPJ visited Zegaye in prison on July 25 during a mission to the country. He was released near the end of the year.

                                           July 25

Wosen Seged Mersha, St. George
Almaz Yeheise, St. George

Mersha and Yeheise, reporter and deputy editor-in-chief, respectively, for the independent weekly St. George, were detained by police in the capital, Addis Ababa. St. George, a sports newspaper, is affiliated with the St. George football club, one of Addis Ababas two main football teams. The arrests came after an April 10 article by Mersha criticized a referee who had officiated a game between the two teams in March for being biased. Police informed the two journalists that they were being charged with defamation and then released them after each had paid a 2,000 birr (US$250) bail.

The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA) support for Africa press freedom and free expression campaign and message to be presented at the African Union meeting of Heads of State in Maputo in July and addressed to President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, the current Chair of the AU.

C/o: Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary ,
"Rotimi" <>

His Excellency
President Thabo Mbeki
President of Republic of South Africa,
And Chair of African Union

Dear Mr President,

We would like to extend our best wishes to your excellency and through you to the African heads of state and government, delegates and brothers and sisters who are participating at the African Union meeting of Heads of State in Maputo . We are convinced that the present AU summit would perform tasks that would have a major positive impact on the growth and development of the African peoples.
We hope that our newly established organization, AU would, among others, focus on and discuss the issue of the exercise of the rights to press freedom which is based on the right of peoples to freedom of expression.
We are desirous that the African Union Constitution would firmly stand for the respect and exercise of press freedom; embrace the accountability and responsibilities of all concerned parties, protect press freedom from attacks; and strongly protest against undemocratic practices of dictators, and strongly requires professionals to be governed by code of ethics.
We have concrete grounds for calling on the African Union to focus its attention on the question of the respect of the right to freedom of expression. Journalists in Africa work under particularly hostile circumstances and, because of their important role in building and maintaining democracy, require recognition and protection.
In several AU member states, journalists are arrested, harassed, and intimidated solely for their reporting, and many countries resort to harsh, outdated laws to prosecute journalists for their work. Research conducted by African and international press institutions shows an alarming pattern of governments interfering with the free flow of information and zealously prosecuting journalists for their work-in some cases even drafting legislation deliberately aimed at suppressing the dissemination of dissenting views.
For instance, a government in an African country has shut down the entire independent media and has so far detained a dozen journalists. Several others have fled the country. A government spokesperson acknowledged to NGO that independent journalists are currently imprisoned and held incommunicado but would not guarantee that all of the detained journalists were alive.

My country, Ethiopia also has a dismal press freedom record, and its government is planning alarming changes to the country's 11-year-old press laws that would severely restrict the rights of Ethiopia's already beleaguered private press corps. Although the Ethiopian authorities claim that the new law would promote "constructive and responsible journalism," we believe that the statutes would lead to a crackdown, driving many of them out of business or putting them behind bars. Currently, two journalists are imprisoned in Ethiopia, more than 40 journalists have pending court cases. While these and other few African countries are the most egregious press freedom violators in the AU, international press organizations, have documented state harassment of independent reporters and news outlets all over the continent.
The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA) respectfully reminds Your Excellency that most AU member states have signed Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, all of which recognize an individual's right to seek, receive, and impart information without fear of reprisal.
As an African association of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom in Ethiopia EFJA strongly believes that media outlets and journalists should be able to work freely, and that a public's ability to gather and receive information should be enshrined and recognized as a fundamental human right. We also believe that journalists should not face arrest detention, or harassment for their work.
We call on your Excellency and the African heads of state and government to:
respect AU and international laws

  • Release imprisoned journalists in their respective countries.
  • Change their repressive press laws
  • Ensure that the media in the AU member can function freely, without intimidation, harassment, or restrictions.

It is our sincere hope that the AU Summit would come up with successful results that would be to the ultimate benefit of the peoples of the African continent.

We also hope that press freedom would flourish in Africa and the rest of the world.


Kifle Mulat

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
19 June, 2003

Systematic harassment of independent journalists in Ethiopia continues

Ethiopia, June, 2003 -The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN is disturbed by the continued imprisonment of Tewodros Kassa and Melese Shine; the slew of trials against numerous independent journalists; and the ominous nature of the press law presented by the Ethiopian authorities earlier in the year. PEN considers that the practice of taking journalists through criminal proceedings on account of articles they have written has long since become systematic in Ethiopia and constitutes an assault on freedom of expression in the country.

Tewodros Kassa, the former editor-in-chief of the newspaper Ethop, was sentenced in July 2002 to two years imprisonment for fabricating information that could incite people to political violence. Melese Shine, current editor-in-chief of the same newspaper, has been detained in prison in Addis Ababa since April 29, 2003 on charges of defaming a hospital administrator he accused of embezzlement. Unable to pay his bail of 3000 birr (c. US$375), Shine remains in custody whilst his case ambles through the courts.

In May 2003 alone legal action against the following journalists was taken:

Wosenseged Gibrekidan, deputy editor-in chief of Ethop, was charged with libeling a former Ethiopian ambassador by dismissing claims he made regarding his diplomatic efforts during the war with Eritrea. Gibrekidan was released on bail on May 16.

Shimelis Asfaw, editor-in-chief of Ethio-Time, who is charged with disseminating fabricated information about the government and its officials had his trial adjourned until July 4, 2003.

Mengistu Wolde Selassie, editor-on-chief of Dagim Wonchif, was informed that a press offense charge had been filed against him stemming from articles published in his newspaper.

PEN has also received reports that journalist Sendu Abebe has received threats due to a review she published in Ethionation of the movie "Kezkaza Wolafen" which deals with AIDS and HIV. She was arrested and spent one night in jail. On her release, she managed to flee and go into hiding.

PEN has records of twenty-three other journalists against whom criminal proceedings are being taken by the Ethiopian authorities simply on the grounds of what they have published. The actual figure is believed to be much higher.

The strategy of dragging journalists through interminable court proceedings is one that promotes self-censorship. Even when such cases end in acquittals or with charges being dropped, the threat of being taken to court in the future acts as a deterrent to journalists to write anything that might be deemed damaging in any way to the authorities.

Furthermore, the draft press law presented in January this year by the Ethiopian government does not augur well for freedom of expression in the country. Far from decriminalizing offences such as libel, which PEN has always maintained should be dealt with through the civil courts, the law would continue to allow for prison terms for so called press offences, as well as handing the government sweeping powers of censorship. As such, PEN believes that the law runs counter to both the spirit and the letter of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Ethiopia is a signatory; and Article 29 of the Ethiopian Constitution. A letter sent in March by PEN to the Ethiopian authorities pointing out the anomalies in the draft law has yet to receive a reply.

International PEN calls for the immediate dropping of all criminal charges against journalists in Ethiopia, and the release of Tewodros Kassa and Melese Shine. Given the contradiction between the draft press law and Ethiopia's commitments to freedom of expression, International PEN calls upon the Ethiopian government to reconsider the introduction of this legislation and to consult with independent media bodies about the content of the bill.

Recommended Actions
PEN members may send appeals:

  • Calling for the immediate dropping of criminal charges against all journalists and the release of Tewodros Kassa and Melese Shine;

  • Urging the Ethiopian government to reconsider the content of the draft press bill, to bring independent media bodies into the consultative process, and to ensure that any proposed legislation upholds rather than contravenes Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 29 of the Ethiopian Constitution.

Appeals to:
H.E. Ato Meles Zenawi
Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Office of the Prime Minister
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 1 552 020

H.E. Ato Harka Hariye
Minister of Justice
c/o National Parliament
Fax: +251 1 51 08 73/ +251 1 55 02 78

PEN members are also recommended to copy their appeals to the Ethiopian embassies in their countries. In the United States, letters can be directed to:

H. E. Kassahun Ayele
Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the United States
3506 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202)686-9551

Ethiopia and Eritrea conflict

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