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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Government Rounds Up Journalists, Opposition Leaders

IFEX -- Ethiopian authorities are hunting down journalists, civil society activists and opposition leaders in a bid to clamp down on government critics following public protests that left more than 40 dead at the hands of security forces, report the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA), the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Ethiopian government has issued a "wanted" list of 58 people, including 17 publishers and editors, who will be prosecuted for attempting to "violently undermine the constitutional order in the country."

State media have disseminated photographs of many of the journalists and have called on the public to inform police about their whereabouts. The head of EFJA, Kifle Mulat, is on the list. He is not in the country. Leaders of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association and local representatives of the international charity Action Aid, are also on the list.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said the individuals on the list will be charged with treason, which carries the death penalty in Ethiopia. He has accused some journalists of working hand-in-hand with opposition parties and promoting street protests in Addis Ababa.

CPJ says eight journalists have been detained so far: Andualem Ayle of the private, Amharic-language weekly "Ethiop"; Nardos Meaza of the private, Amharic-language weekly "Satanaw"; Zekarias Tesfaye, publisher of the private, Amharic-language weekly "Netsanet"; Dereje Habtewolde, deputy editor of "Netsanet"; Fassil Yenealem, publisher of the Amharic-language weekly "Addis Zena"; Wosonseged Gebrekidan, editor-in-chief of "Addis Zena"; Dawit Kebede, editor-in-chief of "Hadar"; and Feleke Tibebu, deputy editor of "Hadar".

Police have searched the offices of "Netsanet" "Ethiop" and "Abay", and confiscated documents, computers, money, and other equipment and materials.

Ethiopian authorities have also used state-owned media to launch a smear campaign against broadcasters Voice of America (VOA) and Germany's Deutsche-Welle.

Both broadcast local-language news programmes into Ethiopia via shortwave, and are a popular source of information in a country which has no local independent radio stations. The state-owned "Ethiopian Herald" published an article accusing VOA, Deutsche Welle Radio and the private press of "promoting the destructive missions of opposition parties."

International news organizations say more than 40 people were killed in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters who accused Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of rigging polls in May to get re-elected.

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