(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an RSF press release:
Release of two journalists detained since 1997
Reporters Sans Frontieres calls for the release of three journalists still in jail
RSF is very pleased about the release of Garuma Bekele and Tesfaye Deressa, respectively managing editor and editor-in-chief of the weekly Urji. The two journalists were arrested in October 1997 and accused of "participating in terrorist activities" and "fabricating false news" after they contradicted an official statement that three men killed by the security forces in October 1997 were members of the Oromo Liberation Front (FLO) and were implicated in attacks by that movement. The weekly Urji affirmed that the three men were indeed Oromos (one of the main ethnic groups in the country) but did not belong to the FLO. The journalists were detained in the Addis-Ababa central prison until their release on 10 May 2001 on the orders of the High Court, for "lack of evidence". The privately-owned Amharic weekly Urji closed down after its two main editors were arrested in 1997.
Ethiopia has been the biggest jail for journalists on the African continent for the past seven years. The country's first press law, passed in 1992, enables the authorities to detain and give prison sentences to journalists who are too critical of the government or are close to opposition movements.
Three journalists are still in jail in Ethiopia.
- Solomon Nemera, editor-in-chief of Urji, has been detained since November 1997 for the same reason as his two colleagues. He has not been released because he was reportedly charged, during his detention, for another article published in Urji. Bail of 13,000 birrs (approximately 1,800 euros) has been set for this journalist's release.
- Daniel Gezzahegne, deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine Moged, was arrested on 4 May 2001. He was accused of publishing an article in 2000 in the now defunct Gemena criticising the activities of the Orthodox Church in the north of the country. His trial is scheduled for October 2001.
- Eyobe Demeke, managing editor of the weekly Tarik has been detained since early May 2001. He is accused of publishing an article in 1996. He spent five years out of prison, on bail, until the police decided to detain him until the case comes before court.
RSF appeals to the Ethiopian authorities to release the three journalists currently in jail in the country and to ensure that journalists can work freely throughout the country. The organisation notes that Ethiopia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19 of which guarantees freedom of expression.