Ethiopia: Two editors jailed for a year

English PEN protests the one-year prison sentences handed to newspaper editors Ibrahim Mohamed Ali and Asrat Wedajo on 24 August 2009 for their coverage of sensitive issues. They were reportedly convicted under now-obsolete press laws for articles published several years ago.

 

Ibrahim Mohamed Ali, editor of the weekly Muslim-oriented newspaper Salafiyya, and Asrat Wedajo, former editor of the now-defunct Seife Nebelbal, were each sentenced to one year in prison on 24 August 2009. They were immediately taken to Kality Prison outside the capital Addis Ababa to begin serving their sentences.

 

The two journalists were reportedly convicted on several charges under Ethiopia’s criminal code and its now-obsolete Press Proclamation of 1992. The latter was reformed as the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation, which officially took effect in December 2008.

 

The charges against Wedajo stemmed from a 2004 article containing allegations of human rights violations against the Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. Mohamed Ali was charged in connection with a 2007 piece, written by a guest columnist, which was critical of the Ethiopian Ministry of Education’s plans to restrict the use of headscarves by female Muslim students at public education institutions.

 

Mohamed Ali has previously been imprisoned for publishing similar stories: in 2008 he, along with Maria Kadim and Ezedin Mohamed, publisher and editor of the newspaper Al-Quds, were jailed for almost two weeks for reprinting articles from the website EthiopianMuslims.net that criticised the Ministry’s proposal to restrict religious practices in public schools. On that occasion, Kadim was acquitted but Mohamed Ali was fined 10,000 birrs (US$800). He reportedly faces further charges relating to coverage of religious matters. 

 

Mohamed Ali plans to appeal the one-year prison sentence. Wedajo reportedly cannot afford a lawyer but may be able to lodge an appeal regardless.

 

Background

 

The newspaper for which Wedajo worked, Seife Nebelbal, has been banned since the Ethiopian government’s

crackdown on the media in 2005.

 

Despite promises of reform, the Ethiopian government makes a habit of reviving criminal cases against journalists dating back years as a mean of silencing criticism. At least eight other editors of Amharic-language newspapers are reportedly now facing actual or possible criminal charges for their reporting on political and public affairs. 


RECOMMENDED ACTION
 
Please send appeals:

 

• Protesting the one-year prison sentence handed to editors Ibrahim Mohamed Ali and Asrat Wedajo on 24 August 2009 for their coverage of sensitive issues;
• The WiPC understands that the two editors were convicted under now-obsolete press laws for articles published several years ago. It points out that their conviction is a clear violation of their right to freedom of expression under international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is a party, including the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights;
• Calling for Mohamed Ali and Wedajo’s immediate and unconditional release.

 

Appeals to:

 

Minister of Justice
Berhanu Hailu
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
Fax: 251 11 551 7775
Email: justice@telecom.net.et
ministry-justice@telecom.net.et
Salutation: Dear 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


Please also send a copy of your letter to the Ethiopian diplomatic representative in the UK:

 

H.E. Ato Berhanu Kebede
Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
17 Princes Gate
London
SW7 1PZ

 

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/ethiopiatwoeditorsjailedforayear/

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