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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Journalists Are Becoming Increasingly Unwelcome Observers

Reporters Without Borders voiced alarm today about the mounting repression against journalists in Ethiopia, reporting that it has registered five cases of arbitrary punitive measures and 10 arrests during the past week, in which the country has been awaiting final results in the recent legislative elections.

"The government is riding roughshod over Ethiopia's democratic guarantees in full view of the international community, especially the African Union, which has its headquarters in Addis Ababa," the press freedom organisation said.

"Journalists are becoming increasingly unwelcome observers during this period of political unrest and the government is clearly unwilling to tolerate any criticism," the organisation added. "It is vital that foreign governments and international bodies with any influence over Prime Minister Meles Zenawi should intervene at once to try to stop this spiral of repression."

The editors and deputy editors of four privately-owned newspapers in Addis Ababa received summonses from the Central Federal Bureau of Investigation on 1 June to report to the police the next day. When they went, they were held throughout the day and were finally set free in the course of the night, without any explanation.

The eight editors concerned were Zelalem Gebre of Menilik and his deputy Serkalem Fassil, Abiye Gizaw of Netsanet and his deputy Dereje Abtewold, Mesfin Tesfaye of Abay and his deputy Fekadu Indrias, and Fassil Yenalem of Zena and his deputy Simret G. Mariam.

Two journalists with the US news agency, the Associated Press, photographer Boris Heger and reporter Anthony Mitchell, were arrested during deadly clashes on the campus of Addis Ababa university on 6 June and were held for seven hours. The memory card was confiscated from Heger's digital camera.

Finally, the public television station ETV last night broadcast an information ministry statement withdrawing the accreditation of five Ethiopian journalists working for the Amharic-language services of the German public radio, Deutsche Welle (DW), and the US government's Voice of America (VOA).

The five - Helen Mohamed, Bereket Teklu and Temam Aman of VOA, and Asegedech Yiberta and Tadesse Engdawde of DW - were accused in the statement of producing "irresponsible, baseless and invalid" reports.

Despite a government ban on demonstrations in the capital, hundreds of students have been protesting against provisional results issued by the electoral commission giving the ruling Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and its allies party a narrow victory in the 15 May legislative elections.

Polling has had to be reheld in various places because of fraud or irregularities. The two main opposition parties have challenged the results and have been accused by the authorities of encouraging the student protests.

Reporters Without Borders also noted that Shiferraw Insermu and Dhabassa Wakjira, two journalists who used to work for ETV's Oromo-language service, have been detained without any justification for more than a year in Addis Ababa. A former colleague now living in exile said they were arrested in Addis Ababa on 22 April 2004 along with other Oromo employees of ETV who have since been released.

Their arrests were apparently prompted by the broadcasting of a report about the violent dispersal of an Oromo student demonstration on the Addis Ababa university campus on 4 January 2004 in which many were arrested, especially members of the Macha Tulema social assistance group who were protesting against the government's decision to move Oromo regional bodies from Addis Ababa (called Finfinne by the Oromos) to Adama (also known as Nazret), 100 km east of the capital.

Reporters Without Borders

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