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Ethiopia: EHAHRD-Net condemns sentencing of six journalists

Action Requested: Join EHAHRD-Net’s condemnation of jail terms ranging between one year and life imprisonment handed down to six journalists by the Ethiopian Federal Court on July 16, 2007. Targets listed below. Please send blind carbon copies of interventions to info@africafiles.org .

Act By: 17 August 2007

Sponsor: EHAHRD-Net Target: Ethiopian government officials
Action Site: http://www.yorku.ca/crs/AHRDP/index.html Other Contact Info: ehahrdp@yahoo.ca


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KAMPALA: EHAHRD-Net CONDEMNS SENTENCING OF ETHIOPIAN JOURNALISTS

Public Statement
EHAHRD-Net Index:    ETHIO 017/003/2007   (Public)
17 July 2007

They served their community diligently by exercising their right to freedom of expression as enshrined in both their national Constitution, and regional and international human rights instruments, yet for six journalists, all they could reap for this were jail terms ranging between one year and life imprisonment.

It is with utter dismay that the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) receives the news about six journalists who were sentenced by the Ethiopian Federal Court on July 16th 2007. Information received from Network sources in Ethiopia indicates that Ethiop Editor, Andualem Ayele; Menilik Editor Zelalem Guebre and Netsanet Editor Abey Gizaw who were both tried in absentia, all have been handed a sentence of life imprisonment. Asqual Editor Wonakseged Zeleke was handed a three year- prison sentence. Meanwhile, Dawit Fassil, Deputy Editor of the now defunct weekly Satenaw, who had initially been found guilty of publishing inaccurate information, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. EHAHRD-Net is yet to establish the sentence handed to the Editor of Abay, Mesfin Tesfaye. The court also imposed heavy fines on the Serkalem, Sisay and Fassil press groups, ordering their disbandment.

BACKGROUND:
The six journalists who have been sentenced were part of the 38 members of the opposition sentenced by the Ethiopian Federal Court, following arrests in November 2005 when the Government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi launched a scathing attack on the opposition and independent media, forcing many into oblivion. The journalists were accused of being part of an opposition conspiracy to overthrow the “constitutional order”, “impairment of the defensive power of the State”, and “attempted genocide” following the publication of editorials critical of the Government’s conduct during the May 2005 General Elections. 

The acquittal of eight journalists in April this year had acted as a glimmer of hope that their colleagues too would receive fair judgment, but sadly this hope is now gone. 

“The sentencing of journalists in Ethiopia is a clear manifestation of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s continued effort to deny the Ethiopian people their right to freedom of expression and information. As a Network, we are convinced that these journalists engaged in legitimate work of gathering and disseminating information at the time of their arrest, and therefore, feel that their sentencing is grossly unfair and a violation of international law,” says Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairperson EHAHRDP/Net.

All this is happening despite the Ethiopian Government’s pledge to uphold media freedom as manifested in Article 29 of the Constitution that provides for the “Right to Hold Opinions, Thoughts and Free Expressions” without interference. “This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through other media of his choice…”

According to the judgment passed yesterday, 30 opposition members (including three journalists) are to serve a life term in prison, six (including 1 journalist) were handed a prison term of 15 to 18 years while two journalists shall serve 1 to 3 years in prison.

APPEAL:

  • The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network appeals to the Ethiopian Federal Government to revisit the court’s decision and ensure the release of the journalists.  

  • EHAHRD-Net also urges the Ethiopian Federal Government to introduce legal reforms in line with international standards by removing all criminal sanctions for press offenses such as defamation, insulting the government, and publishing false information.  

  • We further urge the Ethiopian Government to allow the private media houses previously shut down to operate normally, keeping in mind that a free media is the only way through which the people of Ethiopia shall be able to enjoy democracy.  

  • The Ethiopian Government must respect freedom of the media as enshrined not only in its own Constitution, but also in regional and international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Ethiopia is signatory.  

All Network members across the sub-region and the entire international community should add their voices to this call to ensure compliance by the Ethiopian Government.

SEND APPEALS TO:

Prime Minister
His Excellency Meles Zenawi
Office of the Prime Minister
PO Box 1031
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 1552020
E-mail: national.parliament@telecom.net.et, national.parliament@ethionet.et
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: mfa.addis@telecom.net.et
Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Justice
Mr. Assefa Kesito
Ministry of Justice
PO Box 1370
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 5517775 / 5520874
Email: ministry-justice@telecom.net.et
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please also send a copy of your letter to the Ethiopian representative in your country.*

Regional Coordination Office
EAST AND HORN OF AFRICA HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS PROJECT (EHAHRDP)
Human Rights House, Plot 1853, Lulume Rd., Nsambya
P.O. Box 70356 Kampala, Uganda
Phone: +256-414-510263(general)/ext.112 
          +256-414-267118(direct)
Fax: +256-414-267117
E-mail: ehahrdp@yahoo.ca
Website: http://www.yorku.ca/crs/AHRDP/index.html 

* Note to readers:  AfricaFiles has found the following web site that may provide access to Ethiopian representatives abroad: http://www.embassiesabroad.com/embassies-of/Ethiopia.  However, AfricaFiles cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information on this web site.

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.

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