Monday, July 16, 2007

In Ethiopia, High Court Sentences Six Journalists to Prison, Four to Life

CPJ -- Ethiopia’s High Court today handed down harsh criminal penalties, including life prison sentences, against six journalists and three publishers on anti-state charges in connection with critical coverage of the government during the deadly unrest in the aftermath of disputed parliamentary elections in 2005, according to local journalists.

At least 200 people packed the courtroom in the capital, Addis Ababa, as editors Andualem Ayele of Ethiop, Zelalem Gebre of Menelik, Mesfin Tesfaye of Abay, and Abiy Gizaw of Netsanet were handed life prison sentences and stripped of all civic rights forever, according to defense lawyer Weneawake Ayele. The prosecution last week had requested the death penalty for Tesfaye and Ayele, according to news reports. Gebre and Gizaw were sentenced in absentia.

“Receiving a life sentence for criticizing the government is not only outrageous but galling,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “These severe penalties are out of step with international norms and undermine the democratic credentials of Ethiopia’s government.”

More than 190 people were killed and dozens of opposition leaders and 14 journalists were put on official “wanted lists,” then jailed, when authorities crushed post-election protests alleging poll-rigging by the ruling party in November 2005, following the May elections. The journalists and publishers sentenced today on “outrages against the constitutional order” charges had all produced Amharic-language weeklies that were shuttered in the crackdown. Before 2005, more than 20 newspapers flourished in the country. Today, only five publish under intense self-censorship.

Meanwhile, editor Wenakseged Zeleke of Asqual was sentenced to three years in prison, and deputy editor Dawit Fassil of Satanaw to 18 months in prison, according to Ayele. The court also ordered the civic rights of the journalists suspended for five years. Fassil, who had been released on bail in April after 16 months in prison on charges of “inciting the public through false rumors,” was returned, along with the other defendants, to Kality prison on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, according to local journalists.

Fassil’s publisher, Serkalem Publishing House, which is also publisher of Asqual and Menelik newspapers, and Sisay Publishing and Advertising Enterprise, publisher of Ethiop, were ordered dissolved and fined respectively 120,000 birr (US$13,500) and 100,000 birr (US$11,000) on related charges of committing or supporting outrages to the constitutional order, Ayele said. A third publisher, Fasil, which put out the Addis Zena newspaper, was fined 15,000 birr (US$1,700).

The journalists and publishers, who were sentenced today along with more than 20 opposition leaders, “could” appeal the sentences with Ethiopia’s Federal Supreme Court, Ayele told CPJ. But Information Minister Bereket Simon told the BBC the defendants had “admitted” to attempting to violently overthrow the government and had “asked for clemency.”

Following the sentencing today, state television reported that a plea for clemency had been submitted to the prime minister’s office, according to local journalists. The statement, bearing the signatures of all the defendants, including journalists, accepted full responsibility for the post-election violence, they said.

Two other editors, Wosonseged Gebrekidan of Addis Zena and Dawit Kebede of Hadar, jailed since November 2005, were still on trial on related charges, but did not risk life imprisonment or death, according to local journalists.

“Sadly, this is just the latest example of the authorities’ ongoing repression of the independent press which led CPJ to this year name Ethiopia the world’s worst backslider on press freedom,” Simon said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Mercenary Democracy and the Politics of Deception in Ethiopia

Let us review events of the past three months.

And then there were three visitors.

a. Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin visits Washington to promote the idea that human rights violations in Ethiopia isn’t as bad as Ethiopian-Americans portray it; that there are regional security issues that are occupying Ethiopia at the moment, etc. Seyoum is well aware that any time you raise regional security US government listens. It just shows the Ethiopian government has better and also expensive lobbyist instructing it. The current attempt to delay HR 2003 will follow similar approach.

b. PM Meles pays a surprise visit to Somalia; Gedi later flies to Washington for a conference where he tries unsuccessfully to list achievements.

c. Party Boss Sebhat Nega goes to Washington to confer with Tigrayan intellectuals. What did they confer? [It is interesting some vocal individuals are now unusually quiet.]

Three statements and denials

d. Shortly after, Sebhat makes his “gold and dust” speech in defense of Eritrea against Ethiopia. (outcry follows)
e. Badme goes over to the Eritrean side. (more outcry)
f. Meles admits “political miscalculation” in intervening in Somalia; Jendayi Fraser talks to BBC along the same line.

Seyoum takes an unusual position of denying Gettleman’s coverage of ONLF activities in the Ogaden in Ethiomedia.com.

Bereket goes on VOA to “clarify” Meles’s “apology” to parliament on his (mis) adventure in Somalia. Ambassador Samuel writes to The Washington Post that McCrummen misquoted Meles. Interestingly, the Ambassador tries to correct the “misquote” by slipping in a misstatement that “the extremist forces made a military miscalculation in assuming that Ethiopia's withdrawal of roughly two-thirds of its troops would not leave a credible deterrent force.” The fact is that two-thirds of Ethiopian troops did not leave Somalia. Another interesting thing is that Nazret.com included Ambassador Samuel’s photo with President Bush, his academic credentials and repeated the title “US ‘Surprised’ by Ethiopia move for death penalty in coup plot” [italics mine]. I don’t see the relevance of the three items other than a promotional effort by Nazret.com.

Meles, the Opposition, and Siye

g. I think the fake “death penalty” will be commuted. It is intended to create an outcry, build suspense and divide the Opposition. Commuting the sentence will portray Meles as a humanitarian and a statesman. He needs to register this with the international community.

h. Sean McCormack’s (State Department) “call on the Ethiopian government and High Court to take action in making a final sentencing determination which is consistent with the greater objectives of bolstering the rule of law and promoting much-needed reconciliation” is a hint that it will be dutifully followed by Meles & Co. Following their release, Opposition leaders will once again be asked to take their seats in parliament. It is all a big lie!

i. The release of Siye is being hailed as significant. Ethio-Zagol has uncharacteristically titled a recent post “Siye, The Healer.” Unsurprisingly, most of the congratulatory statements have come from Tigrayans. Whatever good qualities one may see in Siye the fact remains that he is part and parcel of the ruling minority. Why Siye is released now and not, say, Abera Yemane-Ab could be that the former is needed to cement the cracking spots within the TPLF structure.

Earlier in the same week, Deki-Alula.com reported that a new party by former TPLF members is in the offing [sic] “with a platform of sustaining the supposedly lacking real democracy to Ethiopia and protecting the sovereignty of the country. Recovering the Port of Asseb also lies at the top of its agenda.” The dilemma in Ethiopian politics over the past 17 years has been the dominance of a TPLF-Plus government. Are we being cajoled to accept a warmed up version of the old stuff—only this time we are promised the carrot of ‘democracy, protection of our sovereignty, and Asseb?’ How absurd can one get?!

It is reasonable to assume that this could be a preparation for war against Eritrea. Sebhat’s “gold and dust” speech and Badme handover are all part of a psychological mobilization for war. There has not been enough anger in Ethiopia lately to sustain a war; the Somalia campaign has shown that to be the case.

We may soon be hearing from Paul Henze. You may have observed in the past that every time the minority government is about to go to war, Paul Henze reported on his recent travels in Ethiopia and the improvements he witnessed contrary to vile spewed by Dergists in the Washington, D.C. area.

The recent favorable coverage of ONLF activities in the Ogaden region by New York Times has created a PR disaster for the ruling minority government. Since Eritrea is thought to be behind the incursions, it may well necessitate an Eritrean campaign. The time is ripe for such a campaign in that the Eritrean opposition within and outside of Eritrea is building momentum. Moreover, the ruling party in Eritrea is consistently violating international standards consequently turning itself into a pariah state.

A deal may have been reached with Eritrean opposition to return Asseb to Ethiopia for the help received to realize their political objective. The danger now is if the two sides sign additional agreement to form a confederation. That is what the US would advise. It certainly has the appearance of strategic economic and security benefits. However, it will be a great disadvantage to Ethiopian interests in the short term. A confederation or any such idea must wait at least a decade, if not two. Both nations must first put their houses in order, educate their publics (without foreign interference) and then, may be, start public debates to determine feasibility of the project.

Also observe the bribe paid to Sudan in the form of an estimated 17,000 hectares of land. This may well be an incentive that Sudan not lend support to Eritrea in the event of launching a war.

Three Lies: time will show more

j. Eritrea and Ethiopian are one and the same. Ironically, Eritreans don’t believe that. If they did, it would only be for some short-term gains—similar to the pre-2000 war conditions when they enjoyed political and economic access denied to many Ethiopians. In fact, they even exported coffee! Do we want those days back?
k. Eritreans rule Ethiopia. Really?! This is part of a psychological warfare and one designed to deflect blame from the ruling minority. The fact is that Eritreans can’t even rule Eritrea, much less Ethiopia. Blaming it on Eritrea helps garner support from the rest of the country. If Meles and Sebhat have been known to be Eritreans working for Eritrean interests, how come so-called dissenters collaborated with them for over a decade? Here is the thing: these are a tight-knit group (by ethnicity, locality, family, loyalty) to allow outside inspection. The one option left to us in this situation is to see them as they are: a group exercised in the politics of deception.
l. Tigray will secede. We keep getting this ultimatum whenever conditions are on the verge of collapsing.


Our hope is that Opposition leaders will be released soon and that they will stand united and not be had by the malicious design of the ruling minority and their handlers.

Secondly, we ask why Meles will allow formation of a new party that enlists Siye in its ranks. In other words, Meles and his wife may lose their “home base” to contenders. That, at best, is improbable. The fact that Lidetu & Co. see the formation of a new party a positive development should alert us there is more to it than meets the eye.

Thirdly, “Siye, The Healer” is indeed an interesting proposition. Just recently, we heard Sebhat state unequivocally that “gold and dust” don’t mix—meaning there will not be any resolution between his group and the Opposition outside of total acceptance of admission of guilt/apology. We also saw attempted mediation was a failure; though in the process we were able to see the participants true color. Meles needs the apology in writing because he sees trouble ahead for himself (Charles Taylor, crimes against humanity, money-laundering, etc.) in the event that he steps aside after his term expires.

The question now becomes, How will the Opposition respond to all this? The gravity of the situation is that donor democracies are not serious about democracy or human rights.