Ethiopia: Four editors convicted, two facing harsh sentences

***UPDATE: On 9 July 2007, the court sentenced two of the four editors below – Andualem Ayele and Mesfin Tesfaye – to life in prison, while rejecting a prosecution call for their execution. Wonakseged Zeleke and Dawit Fasil were sentenced to 3 years and 18 months respectively. As Dawit Fasil has already exceeded this time in detention, it is hoped he will soon be released.***

English PEN protests the conviction of four editors, two of whom face the death penalty or a setence of life imprisonment.
On 11 June 2007, four newspaper editors were found guilty of political offences, including ‘outrages against the constitution or constitutional order’ and ‘impairment of the defensive power of the state.’ These charges related to their publishing editorials critical of the Government’s conduct around the May 2005 parliamentary elections. The editors were convicted alongside 34 opposition leaders and civil society activists following the defendants’ refusal to recognise the court or to present evidence in their defence as they believed they would not receive a fair trial.
Andualem Ayele, editor of Ethiop, and Mesfin Tesfaye, editor of Abay, face possible execution or life imprisonment for ‘outrages against the constitutional order’. Wonakseged Zeleke, editor of Asqual, could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on similar charges. Deputy editor of Satanaw Dawit Fassil, who was returned to prison after being released on bail in April, is reported to face a custodial sentence of up to three years for ‘inciting the public through false rumours’.
Three publishing houses, Serkalem (which owns Asqual, Menelik and Satanaw) and Sisay (Ethiop); and Fasil (Addis Zena) were also convicted. The companies could now face heavy fines or be dissolved. This could also have onerous implications for the company owners, some of whom have fled the country following their release from prison in April 2007.
The four convicted editors remain in prison awaiting sentencing, alongside three other journalists and two academics. The journalists are Solomon Aregawi (Hadar), Dawit Kebede (Hadar) and Goshu Moges (Lisane Hezeb). The academics are Dr Berhanu Nega (economist, vice chairman of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy – CUD – and elected mayor of Addis Ababa) and Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam (76, author and former chair of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council).
There have recently been reports that all of the convicted prisoners may be released as part of a secret deal with the Government (click here for more information), however these remain unconfirmed. In April eight journalists imprisoned on similar charges were acquitted and released after 17 months in prison.
Sentencing is due to proceed on 9 July.
Additional information:
• The imprisoned journalists and academics were arrested and charged in November 2005 following the publication of editorials critical of the government’s conduct around the May 2005 parliamentary elections. 193 people died and 765 were wounded during a massive government crackdown on post-election protests after the opposition contested the victory of the ruling party. The journalists are all associated with Amharic-language publications banned since the crackdown.

•  PEN believes the nine men’s imprisonment and the charges against them are related to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Ethiopian Constitution and international human rights treaties which Ethiopia has ratified.

• To read a recent account of life in Kaliti prison and a call to action by one of the journalists released in April, Fasil Yenealum, click here.  

• Professor Mesfin Wolde Mariam is an Honorary Member of Scottish PEN.
Please send appeals calling for:
• The conviction against editors Ayele, Tesfaye, Zeleke and Fassil and publishers Serkalem, Sisay and Fasil to be overturned;
• The dismissal of all charges against these four editors, the three other journalists and two academics also in detention, and their immediate and unconditional release.

His Excellency Meles Zenawi
Office of the Prime Minister
PO Box 1031
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: 251 11 1552020

Mr Seyoum Mesfin, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
PO Box 393
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: 251 11 551 43 00

Mr Assefa Kesito, Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
PO Box 1370
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: 251 11 5517775 / 5520874

It may be most effective to send the above appeals via the Ethiopian representatives in London:

His Excellency Mr Berhanu Kebede
Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
17 Prince’s Gate
London SW7 1PZ
Fax: (020) 7584 7054

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