In Ethiopia, four journalists released from prison

The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN welcomes the release on 18 August of four Ethiopian journalists following a pardon by the prime minister. The four had been given heavy custodial sentences on anti-state charges in late July. PEN calls on the Ethiopian government to make the release of these journalists - and that of the four other journalists and two academics pardoned in July – unconditional, as well as to quash the life sentence imposed on two journalists in absentia, also in July. It continues to urge the Ethiopian government not to revive genocide charges, which carry the death penalty, against nine journalists acquitted in April. On 18 August the following journalists were released along with around 30 opposition members following a pardon: Wosonseged Gebrekidan (Addis Zena), Dawit Kebede (Hadar), Goshu Moges (Lisane Hezeb) and freelance columnist Tadios Tantu. All four had been sentenced to between four and 15 years in prison a few weeks earlier in relation to their critical coverage of the government's conduct around the May 2005 parliamentary elections (see Update #6 to RAN 49/05 – 9 August 2007). It is understood that the journalists had waived their defence and pleaded guilty in anticipation of the pardon. The government has denied allegations that they were forced to make a confession. The journalists’ pardon and release comes a month after that of four editors and two academics. On 20 July Andualem Ayele (Ethiop), Mesfin Tesfaye (Abay), Wonakseged Zeleke and Dawit Fassil, Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam (76, author and former chair of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council) and Dr Berhanu Nega (economist, vice chairman of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy – CUD - and elected mayor of Addis Ababa) were released along with 32 opposition leaders and activists following an apparent deal for clemency struck with the authorities (see Update #5 to RAN 49/05 – 27 July 2007). However all of the pardons, issued by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, are conditional. According to CPJ, a government spokesman has stated that the latest releases can resume their journalistic activities and are free to criticize the government "as they were doing before", but are forbidden from engaging in "any subversive action against the Constitution" (see Moreover, editors Zelalem Guebre (Menelik) and Abey Gizaw (Netsanet), sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment on 16 July, have not been included in either pardon. Also of concern is that the Ethiopian government is reportedly seeking to revive genocide charges against nine other journalists who were acquitted and released in April this year: Zekarias Tesfaye (Netsanet), Sisay Agena (Ethiop and Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association), Eskinder Nega and his wife Serkalem Fasil (Asqual, Menelik and Satenaw), Fasil Yenealem (Addis Zena), Dereje Habtewold (Menilik and Netsanet), Nardos Meaza (Satenaw), Feleke Tibebu (Hadar) and Kifle Mulat (Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association). These genocide charges carry the death penalty. The publishing houses Serkalem (Asqual, Menelik and Satanaw), Sisay (Ethiop) and Fasil (Addis Zena) have already been ordered to pay heavy fines and be dissolved. The journalists are due to appear before Ethiopia's Supreme Court in November. Please send appeals: * Welcoming the release of journalists Gebrekidan, Kebede, Moges and Tantu * Calling on the Ethiopian government to make their release – and that of editors Ayele, Tesfaye, Zeleke and Fassil and academics Professor Wolde Mariam and Dr Berhanu Nega, who were released in July - unconditional * Further, to dismiss all charges against the journalists Guebre and Gizaw, who have been sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia * Urging the government not to reinstate genocide charges against the nine journalists who were acquitted in April. Appeals to: Prime Minister His Excellency Meles Zenawi Office of the Prime Minister PO Box 1031 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Fax: +251 11 1552020/ +251 111 241194 E-mail: [email protected], [email protected] Salutation: Dear Prime Minister Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Seyoum Mesfin Ministry of Foreign Affairs PO Box 393 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Fax: +251 11 551 43 00 Email: [email protected] Salutation: Dear Minister Minister of Justice Mr Assefa Kesito Ministry of Justice PO Box 1370 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Fax: +251 11 5517775 / 5520874 Email: [email protected]/ [email protected] Salutation: Dear Minister Please also send a copy of your letter to the Ethiopian representative in your country. ***Please send appeals immediately. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 23 September 2007.*** For further information please contact Tamsin Mitchell at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50 / 51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER. Tel: + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax: + 44 (0) 20 7405 0339 Email: [email protected]