Monday, May 15, 2006

ETHIOPIA: Another journalist jailed on years-old defamation charge

By Oluma.a 07 05 1969

New York, May 12, 2006—Another Ethiopian journalist has been sentenced to jail under the country’s draconian press law, in a case that dates back at least seven years, the Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed. Tesehalene Mengesha, a former editor at the defunct Amharic-language weekly Mebruk, was convicted of criminal defamation over a week ago and sentenced to 18 months in prison, CPJ sources said. Mengesha is currently in Kality Prison on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa, the same detention center where 14 journalists are being held along with opposition leaders while facing trial on antistate charges. Mengesha’s imprisonment brings the number of journalists jailed for their work in Ethiopia to at least 17. For more information about Ethiopia’s jailed journalists, see CPJ’s attached fact sheet.Attempts to confirm the exact date of Tesehalene’s conviction and arrest were unsuccessful, and calls to State Prosecutor Shemelis Kemal went unanswered today. Obtaining information on court cases in Ethiopia is extremely difficult, partly because much of the private press has been shuttered since November 2005 as part of a crackdown on the media.The case stemmed from an article published in Mebruk during the 1998-2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean border war. An individual whom the article accused of working as a double agent during the war brought a complaint against Mebruk, which led to criminal charges being filed against Mengesha, CPJ sources said. The plaintiff denied the allegation, while journalists at the paper stood by the story, a former Mebruk journalist told CPJ. Mengesha was jailed at least three times between 1997 and 2000 in connection with his work for Mebruk, according to CPJ records. “Ethiopia’s press law is an affront to press freedom,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “The fact that authorities continue to prosecute local journalists under this law, contrary to stated policy, is outrageous.”“Tesehalene Mengesha’s imprisonment shows that the media crackdown in Ethiopia is continuing,” Cooper added. “Mengesha should be released immediately, along with all other journalists imprisoned for their work.”In Ethiopia, editors are held legally responsible for the content of their newspapers, and many have criminal charges pending against them under the press law. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told a CPJ delegation in March that the government had decided several years ago not to prosecute under the press law, which dates from 1992. However, CPJ has documented at least five convictions under the press law since the crackdown on the media began.FACT SHEET for journalists covering Ethiopia’s treason trial(For in-depth coverage, read CPJ’s special report: of journalists in prison while on trial on antistate charges: 14Number of journalists being tried in absentia in the same trial: At least 7Total number of journalists imprisoned for their work in Ethiopia: 17Number of publications banned: At least 8JOURNALISTS IMPRISONED WHILE ON TRIAL:Arrested: November 2, 2005Dawit Kebede, editor-in-chief of HadarFeleke Tibebu, deputy editor of HadarArrested: November 9-14, 2005Zekarias Tesfaye, manager and owner of NetsanetDereje Habtewolde, editor-in-chief of Netsanet Fassil Yenealem, manager and owner of Addis ZenaWosonseged Gebrekidan, editor-in-chief of Addis Zena [Wosonseged is also serving 8-month prison sentence for defamation to be followed by a separate, 16-month sentence for defamation]Andualem Ayle, editor-in-chief of EthiopNardos Meaza, editor-in-chief of SatanawMesfin Tesfaye, editor-in-chief of Abay Wenakseged Zeleke, editor-in-chief of AsqualArrested: November 27, 2005Serkalem Fassil, manager of Menilik, Asqual, and Satanaw [Serkalem is pregnant]Iskinder Nega, owner of Menilik, Asqual, and Satanaw [Iskinder is listed on charge-sheet as a CUD leader, which he denies]Arrested: November 29, 2005Sisay Agena, manager and owner of Ethiop and executive member of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA)Arrest date unknownDawit Fassil, deputy editor of SatanawCharges against all these journalists (under Ethiopia’s penal code):• “Outrages against the constitution or constitutional order” [art. 238 (1), (2)]• “Impairment of the defensive power of the state” [art. 247, (a), (c), art. 258]• “Genocide” [art. 269 (a)]Maximum sentence for each charge: Life imprisonment or deathAdditional charges against Iskinder Nega:• “Obstruction of the exercise of constitutional powers” [art. 239]• “Armed rising or civil war” [art. 240]• “High treason” [art. 248 (b)]JOURNALISTS SERVING SENTENCES UNDER ETHIOPIA’S PRESS LAW: 3Abraham Gebrekidan, former editor of now-defunct Amharic-language weekly PolitikaImprisoned: March 8, 2006Sentenced: One year for “false news”Abraham Reta Alemu, former editor of defunct Amharic-language weekly RuhImprisoned: April 25, 2006Sentence: One year for criminal defamationTesehalene Mengesha, former deputy editor at defunct Amharic-language MebrukArrest date unknownSentence: 18 months for criminal defamationCASES UNDER INVESTIGATION BY CPJ: 1Goshu Moges, publisher and contributor to Lisane Hezeb; former editor and publisher of Tobia Imprisoned: February 19 and charged with anti-state crimes. See CPJ’s letter of inquiry ( for more information about this case.
Oluma.a 07 05 1969


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