Six journalists were charged with terrorism last week, joining another four who have been similarly charged since June. The fact that most of them have already fled into exile is a sign of the unbearable difficulties journalists face in Ethiopia. By THERESA MALLINSON.
On Thursday, six Ethiopian journalists were charged under the country's draconian 2009 anti-terrorism law. The six journalists are Eskinder Nega, Mesfin Negash, Abiye Teklemariam, Abebe Gellaw, Abebe Belew, and Fasil Yenealem. The latter five were charged in absentia (for the record, Ethiopia has the highest number of journalists in exile in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists), but Nega has been languishing in the Maekelawi Federal Detention Centre since he was arrested on 14 September.
The six journalists were among a group of 24 people, including opposition politicians, to face charges last week, altogether 16 of them were charged in absentia. According to government spokesman Shimelis Kemal, who spoke to AFP: “They are accused under the anti-terrorism law of being members of a terrorist network and abetting, aiding and supporting a terrorist group,” Kemal went on to read from a court document, stating that the so-called terrorists had: “received from the Eritrean government weapons and explosives for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities in Ethiopia”.
Opposition MP Negassa Gidada said he found the charges risible. “What they've tried to do is make the people shut their mouths. Unacceptable. Unacceptable,” AFP quoted him as saying. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 years under Ethiopian law.
CPJ has called for the charges to be dismissed forthwith. “Ethiopia's terrorism charges against journalists critical of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government are becoming vague and ludicrous,” said CPJ East Africa consultant Tom Rhodes. “The authorities have failed to provide any hard evidence and should drop these charges immediately.” We couldn't agree more. FAM
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Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Reuters.