Ethiopia: Releases follow presidential pardon

English PEN welcomes the 20 July release of four editors and two academics in Ethiopia, following a presidential pardon. They had been handed hefty custodial sentences a few days earlier, and had already spent 20 months in pre-trial detention on anti-state charges. PEN regrets, however, the life sentence imposed on two other journalists in absentia and the continuing imprisonment of at least three other print journalists. 

The four editors and two academics, imprisoned since November 2005 on charges related to their publication of editorials critical of the government’s conduct around the May 2005 parliamentary elections, were freed just four days after receiving lengthy prison sentences. On 16 July 2007, editors Andualem Ayele (Ethiop) and Mesfin Tesfaye (Abay) escaped the death penalty but were sentenced to life imprisonment, as were 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). Editors Wonakseged Zeleke (Asqual) and Dawit Fassil (Satanaw) received sentences of three years and 18 months respectively. The six were then released from Kaliti prison on 20 July following a presidential pardon.

Thirty-two opposition leaders and activists who had been convicted alongside the writers were also freed following an apparent deal struck with the authorities in June. All 38 are understood to have signed a statement acknowledging their ‘mistakes’ committed in relation to deadly protests following the 2005 elections (see Additional Information below) and asking for clemency.

Others remain in prison and under threat

A number of other Ethiopian journalists facing similar charges case remain in danger, however. Editors Zelalem Guebre (Menelik) and Abey Gizaw (Netsanet), who were also sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment on 16 July, were not included in the pardon. Neither were three other print journalists still being detained: Dawit Kebede (Hadar), Goshu Moges (Lisane Hezeb) and Wosonseged Gebrekidan (Addis Zena). There are hopes that these journalists may be considered in a further plea for clemency in the coming days.

The government is also seeking to revive genocide charges against nine other journalists who were acquitted and released in April 2007: 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 journalists are due to appear before Ethiopia’s Supreme Court in November 2007.

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.

Additional Information:


  • The 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. Some 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. An independent enquiry into the protests carried out by an Ethiopian judge concluded that the police were guilty of excessive force and massacre. 

  • PEN believes the charges against the journalists 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.

  • Serkalem Fasil gave birth to a son in prison in June 2006. She was featured in International PEN’s Actions marking International Women’s Day on 8 March 2007.

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