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Annual Prison Census 2012 - Ethiopia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 11 December 2012
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2012 - Ethiopia, 11 December 2012, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Journalists in prison as of December 1, 2012

Ethiopia: 6

Saleh Idris Gama, Eri-TV
Tesfalidet Kidane Tesfazghi, Eri-TV
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, according to CPJ research. 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, then-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 2012, and authorities disclosed no information about legal proceedings against them, according to local journalists. Authorities have also not disclosed any information about the detainees' well-being and whereabouts.

Reeyot Alemu, freelance
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, according to news reports. 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.

A 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, according to local journalists. The conviction was based on emails she had received from pro-opposition discussion groups; reports and photos she had sent to the U.S.-based opposition news site Ethiopian Review; unspecified money transfers from her bank account; and photos of anti-government graffiti taken in Addis Ababa, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ. An appeals court overturned the planning and possession charges in August 2012, but upheld her conviction on the charge of promoting terrorism. The court reduced her sentence to four years, news reports said.

CPJ believes the prosecution was brought in reprisal for Reeyot's critical coverage. She wrote columns for several independent publications including Feteh, Awramba Times, and Change magazine, in which she criticized the policies of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In the last column published before her arrest, she compared then-Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, according to local journalists.

Reeyot was being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa in late year. In August 2012, a collection of Reeyot's political analysis and writings was compiled in a book entitled "EPRDF's Red Pen," and in September 2012, the International Women's Media Foundation awarded Reeyot its Courage in Journalism Award.

Woubshet Taye, Awramba Times
Imprisoned: June 19, 2011

Police arrested Woubshet, deputy editor of the now-defunct independent nespaper, 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 Awardee Dawit Kebede, fled the country in November 2011 in fear of being arrested, and the newspaper switched to online publication only.

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 the charges were brought 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 as well. He was detained for a week in November 2005 during the government's crackdown on news coverage of the unrest that followed disputed elections.

Woubshet was being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa in late year.

Eskinder Nega, freelance
Imprisoned: September 9, 2011

Ethiopian security forces arrested Eskinder, a prominent journalistic blogger and former publisher and editor of three now-shuttered newspapers, on vague accusations of involvement in a terrorism plot.

Shortly after the 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 has formally designated as 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."

In July 2012, a federal court judge in Addis Ababa sentenced Eskinder to an 18-year prison sentence based on a video of a public meeting in which Eskinder discussed the implications of the Arab Spring in Ethiopia, according to local journalists and news reports. The judge accused Eskinder of using "the guise of freedom" to "attempt to incite violence and overthrow the constitutional order." Five exiled journalists were convicted in absentia based on their coverage of Ginbot 7.

CPJ believes the charges are part of a long pattern of government persecution in reprisal for Eskinder's critical coverage. In 2011, a deputy police commissioner threatened the journalist with unspecified reprisals for 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 brutal 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.

Eskinder's sentencing drew international condemnation, including from the U.S. State Department, members of the U.S. Congress and the European Union. In May 2012, PEN American Center awarded Eskinder its 2012 Freedom to Write Award.

Eskinder was being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa in late year. His defense planned an appeal.

Yusuf Getachew, Ye Muslimoch Guday
Imprisoned: July 20, 2012

Police officers raided the Addis Ababa home of Yusuf, editor of the Ye Muslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs), and placed the journalist at the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center, according to local journalists. Police also confiscated four of Yusuf's mobile phones, his wife's digital camera, books, and 6,000 birr (US$334), the journalists said.

In October 2012, a court in Addis Ababa formally charged Yusuf under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Law with plotting acts of "terrorism, intending to advance a political, religious or ideological cause," according to local reports. Yusuf told the court he had been beaten while in custody, local journalists told CPJ.

Local journalists said Yusuf's publication provided extensive coverage of protests by members of the Muslim community. Ethiopian Muslims had begun staging protests on Fridays throughout the year to oppose government policies they said interfered with their religious practices, according to news reports. The protests were a highly sensitive issue for the government, which feared a hard-line Islamist influence within the predominantly Christian country. Local journalists said they believed Muslim journalists and newspapers were being harassed as part of an attempt to quell media coverage of the protests.

Other Ye Muslimoch Guday journalists went into hiding, and the publication ceased operations shortly after Yusuf's arrest, local journalists told CPJ. The editor was being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa in late year, those sources said.

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