Former editor-in-chief fined; publisher appears in court, released on bail

Statement from the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA), Addis Ababa

On 14 April 2003, Ato Melese Gessit, the former editor-in-chief of "Gemoraw" newspaper, was fined 11,000 Ethiopian birr (approx. US$1,300) by the Third Criminal Bench of the Federal High Court. He is accused of violating Articles 10(1) and 20(1) of Press Proclamation No. 34/85 and Articles 480(b) and 580(1) of the Penal Code.

Melese was charged with publishing and disseminating three contentious articles. The first item, published in issue 41/1987 of "Gemoraw", was entitled, "An army supported by heavy artillery launches attacks against EPRDF forces". The article said a war was being waged in the country and allegedly incited the Ethiopian people to "unrest".

Melese is also accused of publishing a fabricated news item in issue 8/1986 of "Gemoraw", which cast suspicion on the reputation of seven hermits and monks.

Finally, he was charged in connection with a fabricated news item that appeared in issue 9/1986 of "Gemoraw", which cast suspicion on the reputation of church administrator Melake Hiywot Yitbarak.

Melese has been fighting his case before the courts since the prosecutor filed the charges against him eight years ago. He was able to borrow money to pay the fine and was spared from imprisonment.

In a separate case, Befekadu Moreda, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper "Tomar", appeared in court. The prosecutor charged the editor with defaming engineer Gizaw Tekle Mariam, the manager of a cement factory. The charge is in connection with an article entitled, "How come the Cement Factory has no owner?", which appeared in the 1 April 2002 edition of "Tomar", issue 34. On 8 April 2003, Moreda appeared before the Federal High Court's Third Criminal Bench. He was released on bail of 2,000 birr (approx. US$250). His case has been adjourned to 30 May, when a counter-charge will be heard.

For further information, contact Kifle Mulat, President, EFJA, P.O. Box 31317 / 33232, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, tel/fax: +251 1 55 50 21, mobile: +251 1 (09) 222 939, e-mail:[email protected], [email protected]