Ethiopian journalist faces verdict
By: Naomi Hunt, Press Freedom Adviser for Africa & the Middle East
VIENNA, May 7, 2012 – A verdict in the trial of critical journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition figures accused of terrorism-related crimes is expected on Friday, May 11. Ethiopia’s crackdown on the media and freedom of expression has received bad press around the world, with major international mediacovering the issue and newsmakers from all around the world speaking outagainst the jailing of journalists (and other government critics) on terrorism charges.
By way of damage control, the authorities now appear to be tightening their hold on local media. Just days before a verdict is expected in the case against Ethiopian writer Eskinder Nega, another local editor was given a fine or prison sentence for his newspaper’s critical reporting of that trial, journalists told IPI.
Further, new regulations will make printing presses responsible for pre-publication censorship to “remove any content which may be defined as “illegal” by the government,” according a report in the Daily Monitor. This is particularly bad news for local newspapers since, according to the same piece, “State-owned Birhanena Selam Printing Enterprise (BSPE) is the only printing house in Ethiopia equipped with the technological capacity to publish newspapers and has already circulated the new agreement for its customers to sign.”
Temesgen Desalegn, the chief editor of Feteh newspaper, was last week found guilty of biased reporting about the court and prosecution on the case of Nega and others, according to reports. Desalegn was given the option of a prison sentence or a fine, and chose to pay the 2000 birr (approx. €88) fine, according to a translated news item sent to IPI by email.
The charge against Desalegn came after Feteh ran an op-ed by opposition party member Kinfe-Michael Debebe, who is on trial along with Nega. Prosecutors claimed Debebe’s story portrayed the court proceedings as unfair and the charges against defendants as baseless, according to a report on the website of Ethiopian Satellite Television. Debebe was reportedly given an eight month sentence.
“The authorities insist the recent cases against journalists are related to ‘terrorism’ and not to criticism, but the sentencing of Feteh editor Temesgen Desalegn and the imposition of restrictions on printing presses further undermines this argument and demonstrates the contempt Ethiopia holds for criticism and debate,” said IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. “All journalists currently jailed in the country should be freed at once, and restrictions on press freedom and access to information should be lifted.”
Ethiopia has convicted and sentenced four journalists in Ethiopia to years-long prison terms within the past five months.