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Annual Prison Census 2011 - Ethiopia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 8 December 2011
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2011 - Ethiopia, 8 December 2011, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
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, 2011

Ethiopia: 7

Saleh Idris Gama, Eri-TV
Tesfalidet Kidane Tesfazghi, Eri-TV
Imprisoned: December 2006

In 2011, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi publicly addressed the detentions of Gama and Tesfazghi after years in which they refused to disclose information about the journalists' whereabouts, legal status, or health. The two journalists from Eritrea's state broadcaster Eri-TV were arrested in late 2006 at the Kenya-Somalia border during Ethiopia's invasion of southern Somalia.

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry first disclosed the detention of Tesfazghi, a producer, and Gama, a cameraman, 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 February 2011 interview with CPJ, Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti denied the journalists were in Ethiopian custody. "We don't have two journalists in prison or detention here. We don't know their whereabouts and I have no idea where they are," he told CPJ. "In Ethiopia, we have freedom of press. It is simply malicious propaganda put forth by the Eritrean guys."

However, in a September 2011 press conference with exiled Eritrean journalists in Addis Ababa, Zenawi declared that Gama and Tesfazghi would be freed if investigations determined they were not involved in any espionage activities, according to news reports and journalists who participated in the press conference. The whereabouts of the journalists were unknown.

Woubshet Taye, Awramba Times
Imprisoned: June 19, 2011

Police arrested Taye, deputy editor of the leading independent newspaper 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.

Shortly after Taye's arrest, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal denied that Taye or any other journalist was in custody. "We have a law prohibiting pretrial detention of journalists. No arrest could be initiated on account of content," he told CPJ. A week later, however, Kemal announced that Taye was among nine people arrested on suspicion 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 took Taye to the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center where he was held without charge for 81 days under a far-reaching anti-terrorism law, according to CPJ research.

On September 6, Taye was charged with terrorism without the presence of his lawyer, according to local journalists. CPJ believes the charges against Taye are false, politically motivated, and perpetuate a long and documented pattern of harassment over his critical coverage.

In November 2005, as a senior reporter with the now-banned private weekly Hadar, Taye was detained for a week in a crackdown on dissent and critical coverage of the government's brutal response to protests over disputed elections, according to local journalists. In May 2010, a regulatory official threatened Taye, accusing him of "inciting and misguiding the public" over an editorial that raised questions about the lack of public enthusiasm for parliamentary elections in which the ruling party swept 99.6 percent of the seats, according to news reports. Prior to his arrest, Taye had written a column criticizing what he saw as the ruling party's methods of weakening and dividing the media and the opposition, Taye's editor, Dawit Kebede, told CPJ.

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

Reeyot Alemu, freelance
Imprisoned: June 21, 2011

Ethiopian security forces arrested Alemu, known for critical columns in the leading independent weekly Feteh, at an Addis Ababa high school where she taught English, according to news reports. Authorities raided Alemu's home and seized documents and other materials before taking her into custody at the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center.

A week after Alemu's arrest, Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal announced that the journalist was among nine people arrested on suspicion 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

Alemu was held without charge for 79 days under a far-reaching anti-terrorism law, and was charged on September 6 with terrorism, without the presence of her lawyer, according to local journalists.

CPJ believes the charges against Alemu are baseless and a reprisal for her critical coverage. In the last column before her arrest, Alemu criticized the ruling party's alleged methods of coercion and compared Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to the late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, according to local journalists. Her newspaper has also faced government persecution for its coverage. Since its inception in 2008, authorities have questioned Feteh editor Temesghen Desalegn twice and filed 41 lawsuits against him, according to local journalists.

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

Johan Persson, freelance
Martin Schibbye, freelance
Imprisoned: June 30, 2011

Ethiopian security forces detained Persson and Schibbye, freelancers with the Sweden-based photo agency Kontinent, in a shootout with rebels of the separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front, or ONLF. The journalists, who were slightly injured in the crossfire, had embedded with ONLF fighters after crossing into Ethiopia from neighboring Somalia.

The ONLF has been waging a low-level insurgency since 1984 in Ethiopia's Somali-speaking, oil-rich Ogaden region; the Ethiopian government has banned independent media access to the area amid allegations of human rights abuses. The Ethiopian Parliament formally designated the ONLF a terrorist entity in May 2011 under a far-reaching anti-terrorism law. Under the law, journalists reporting statements or activities by terror-designated entities risk up to 20 years in prison if the government deems their coverage favorable to the groups.

Shortly after Persson and Schibbye's arrests, Ethiopia's government-controlled public broadcaster ERTA showed a video montage posted on the pro-government Ogaden website Cakaara News, presenting the journalists as accomplices to terrorists, according to CPJ research. Part of the footage appeared to have been shot by the journalists themselves, including clips showing them taking photos and interviewing people in refugee camps, and Persson handling an assault rifle. Other clips were shot by authorities after the arrests. "We came to the Ogaden region to do interviews with the ONLF," Schibbye is heard saying, speaking under instructions while in custody.

Using a provision of the anti-terrorism law, which allows for extended detention without charge, Ethiopian public prosecutors held Persson and Schibbye without charge for 68 days, according to CPJ research. On September 6, Persson and Schibbye were taken to court and charged with terrorism, without the presence of their lawyers, Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Anders Jörle told CPJ.

In an October interview with Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said the journalists "are, at the very least, messenger boys of a terrorist organization. They are not journalists." He referenced the government-produced video released in July, saying, "We have video clippings of this journalist training with the rebels." CPJ condemned the statements as predetermining the outcome of the journalists' trial.

In October, Persson and Schibbye pleaded not guilty to charges of involvement in terrorist activities but acknowledged entering the country illegally, according to news reports. Their trial was pending in late year.

Persson had done work for Kontinent for five years, covering dangerous assignments across the globe, including the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to colleague Jacob Zocherman. Schibbye, an experienced reporter, had written, among other things, a series of reports on human trafficking in Asia, Zocherman said.

Persson and Schibbye were being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa.

Eskinder Nega, freelance
Imprisoned: September 9, 2011

Ethiopian security forces arrested Nega, a prominent journalist, government critic, and dissident blogger, on accusations of involvement in a vague terrorism plot. Nega was taken to the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center and held under a provision of the anti – terrorism law that allows for extended detention without charge.

Shortly after Nega's arrest, the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front-controlled state television portrayed the journalist and four others arrested as "spies for foreign forces" and accused them of having links with the banned opposition movement Ginbot 7, which the Ethiopian government formally designated as a terrorist entity. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal accused the detainees of plotting "a series of terrorist acts that would likely wreak havoc."

In November, a judge charged Nega with providing support to Ginbot 7, according to local journalists. Five exiled Ethiopian journalists were charged in absentia.

CPJ believes the charges against Nega are baseless and fall into a long and well-documented pattern of persecution of the journalist over his critical coverage of the government. In February, police arrested Nega as he exited a cybercafé; a deputy police commissioner threatened to jail him over his online columns comparing the uprising in Egypt with Ethiopia's 2005 pro-democracy protests, according to news reports. Nega's coverage of the government's brutal repression of those protests had previously landed him in jail for 17 months on antistate charges. After his release, authorities banned his newspaper and denied him a license to start a new publication, while pursuing hefty fines against him, according to CPJ research.

Nega was being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa.

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