The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today demanded the release of 20 journalists who have been jailed during the last nine months in Ethiopia for political reasons and called on other world leaders to pressure the Ethiopian government for their release as well.
Seventeen journalists were arrested during the violent suppression of anti-government riots that followed the November 2005 elections in Ethiopia. The journalists are charged with treason and could face possible death sentences or life imprisonment. The journalists have refused to be defended in court because of the political nature of their arrests and detentions.
“We strongly protest against the blind repression of freedom of expression and demand the immediate and unconditional release of all the journalists held in Ethiopia, since there is no solid evidence against the charges," said Gabriel Baglo, Director of the Africa Office of the IFJ. “The government of Meles Zenawi holds the sad record of the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists, as well as the country with the largest number of journalists in exile in Africa."
Among the detained journalists is, Serkalem Fasil, who was pregnant when she was arrested and subsequently gave birth in prison. She has yet to receive proper medical attention for herself and for her baby. Fasil’s husband, journalist Eskinder Nega has also languished in prison since November 2005 with other hundreds of political detainees.
Also among the detainees is Abraham Reta, a freelance journalist who was arrested on 24 April 2006 and condemned the same day to one year imprisonment. Two journalists from the public television channel ETV, Shiferraw Insermu and Dhabassa Wakjira, have been in jail since 22 April 2004.
A number of the journalists and political prisoners are suffering from health problems due to the poor prison conditions. According to reports, a significant number of the prisoners were absent from a June 21 court hearing. Prison police stated that the journalists were sick and some of them were hospitalised at the time of the hearing.
Prison sources said that Kaliti prison, where the prisoners are held, is at its worst during the Ethiopian rainy season when wild mice invade the cells to avoid the harsh weather and bring with them contagious diseases. Most of the cells are made of corrugated iron sheets, which are extremely cold when it rains and extremely hot during the dry season.
On a mission to Ethiopia in May, the IFJ and the global education workers’ union federation Education International complained about the lack of freedom of association and freedom of expression in Ethiopia and the harassment and attacks on journalists, teachers and theirs associations.
“The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA) is completely disbanded; there is no independent media in Ethiopia, as most independents journalists have gone underground and about 100 journalists are in exile, including EFJA President Kifle Mulat,” said the IFJ’s Baglo, who was part of the mission.
"We strongly call on the African Union Chairperson, President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, and the Chairman of the African Union Commission, Alpha Omar Konare, to pressure the Ethiopian government to release all detained journalists unconditionally," he added. "We also called on US President George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and European Union President José Manuel Barroso who support the Ethiopian government, to make sure that press freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of association and human rights are respected in Ethiopia.”
For further information contact the IFJ: +221 842 01 43
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries