Detained Journalists and Bloggers in Ethiopia Must be Charged or Released, says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has today severely criticised authorities in Ethiopia following the decision by a court to grant police nearly one more month to conduct investigations against the journalists and bloggers detained in the country last month.

Three journalists and six bloggers were arrested on 25 and 26 April by police using an arrest warrant from a public prosecutor in Addis Ababa, the country’s capital city. The police on May 19 said that while the investigations continue the three journalists and six bloggers will remain in prison. “This is a clear human right violation,” said Gabriel Baglo, IFJ Africa Director. “These journalists and bloggers have not been charged yet and must be released immediately. The court is clearly hesitating because there are no strong charges against our colleagues”.

The IFJ criticism comes a few weeks after it wrote an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, during his visit to the country to ask him to raise his concerns about the ordeal of the imprisoned journalists when he met with Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn. According to media reports, Kerry subsequently raised the arrests during meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Tedros Adhanom, on May 1.

Following the meeting the IFJ welcomed Kerry’s action, but the Ethiopian court has now taken the decision to extend their detention.

The journalists who have been arrested are Tesfalem Weldeyest, who writes independent commentary on political issues for Ethiopia’s Addis Standard magazine and Addis Fortune newspaper, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, senior editor at an influential Amharic weekly magazine Addis Guday, and Edom Kassaye, who previously worked at state daily Addis Zemen Newspaper and is an active member of the Ethiopian Environmental Journalists Association (EEJA).

The bloggers are reportedly members of the Zone 9 group, which is known to be very critical of government policy. They have a strong following on social media. They are: Atnaf Berahane, Befeqadu Hailu, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Abel Wabela and Zelalem Kiberet. They are accused of using social media to create instability in the country and collaborating with international human rights organisations.

According to independent news reports, Ethiopian police said on Saturday, May 17, that the detainees were to be charged with the country’s anti-terrorism proclamation, No 652, published on 28 August 2009, which violates international standards on freedom of expression.

The IFJ believes that this proclamation directly threatens freedom of expression and human rights in the country which is Africa’s second worst jailer of journalists and media professionals.

Independent sources have reported that at least three of the detainees have complained of severe torture and long interrogations, while they have only seen the their lawyers twice since their arrests. "Holding detainees without charge for a prolonged period is a new trend that is becoming routine and systematic,” said Baglo. “It is another severe blow to human rights in Ethiopia and the international community must stand up and fight against it.”