IFJ Says Ethiopian Court Must Reject Death Penalty Demand for Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on an Ethiopian court to reject the prosecutor’s demand for the death penalty for four journalists who have been convicted, along with opposition members and activists, of attempting to overthrow the government, treason and inciting violence.

“We condemn this cruel and unreasonable demand by the prosecution who wants journalists sentenced to death merely for doing their job,” said Gabriel Baglo Director of the IFJ Africa office. “We call on the Court of Kaliti to reject this demand and drop all the charges against the journalists and all the other prisoners of conscience jailed in Ethiopia.”

On Monday the prosecutor in the case demanded that the Court in Kaliti-- on the outskirts of Addis Ababa-- sentence the journalists Andualem Ayele Legesse of Ethiop newspaper, Mesfin Tesfaye Gobena of Abay, Wonakseged Zeleke Tessema of Asqual and Dawit Fasil Woldeselassie of Satenaw to death. The journalists were convicted along with 34 opposition members and activists on 11 June 2007. They were arrested during the violent suppression of anti-government riots in November 2005 that came after elections in the country six months earlier.

According to reports the government may be negotiating a deal with the prisoners that would have them recognise their responsibility in the violence in exchange of a pardon after the sentence.

The court ordered the accused to present their evidence by July 11. The proceedings will resume on July 16.

The journalists and the other accused have refused to recognise the court or defend themselves because of the political nature of their arrests and detentions.

“The charges against our colleagues in Ethiopia are without merit and are being used to intimidate and silence all media in the country,” Baglo said. “Sadly Ethiopia has a long history of trampling press freedom but sentencing these journalists to death would push the country to a new low for human rights and freedom of expression.”

For further information contact the IFJ: +221 842 01 43

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries