IFJ Calls on Ethiopian Prime Minister to Take Action Against Life Sentences for Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today condemned the life prison sentences delivered to six Ethiopian journalists convicted of “outrage against the constitution”, along with opposition members and activists in relation to anti-government riots that took place after national elections in 2005.

“We strongly condemn these unjustified and arbitrary sentences resulting from a political trial,” said Gabriel Baglo, Director of IFJ Africa office. “We call on the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to take immediate action for the unconditional release of all the imprisoned journalists. This would be a huge step towards the national reconciliation that the country needs.”

On Monday a Court in Kaliti -- on the outskirts of Addis Ababa-- handed life sentences to the four journalists Andualem Ayele Legesse of Ethiop newspaper, Mesfin Tesfaye Gobena of Abay, Zelalem Guebre of Menelik, Abey Gizaw of Netsanet. Guebre and Gizaw were sentenced in absentia.
Two more journalists, Wonakseged Zeleke Tessema of Asqual and Dawit Fasil Woldeselassie of Satenaw was sentenced to three year and 18 month jail terms respectively. . Dawit has already served more than this time in prison and might be released soon.

Last week the prosecutor demanded the death penalty for the accused.

The journalists were among forty-three defendants who were sentenced on Monday. Five of them were tried in absentia.

The Kaliti Court also imposed heavy fines and ordered the closure of the three publishing houses Sisay Publishing and Advertizing, Serkalem Publishing and Fasil Publishing and Advertizing.

According to some reports the government has negotiated a deal with the prisoners which will allow them to walk free if they first confess their guilt.

On 9 April, eight jailed journalists were acquitted and released by the Federal High Court. At least 13 journalists are still in jail in Ethiopia.

For further information contact the IFJ: +221 842 01 43
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries