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EIGHT JOURNALISTS ACQUITTED

Eight journalists accused of treason and attempted genocide were set free after 17 months in jail, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF). Their release followed the acquittal of the exiled president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA) just four days earlier.

The journalists had been on trial with dozens of fellow reporters and opposition leaders on anti-state charges linked to their coverage of public protests in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections. Almost 200 people died in two waves of protests over alleged vote-rigging.

CPJ reports that on 5 April, the High Court acquitted the exiled head of EFJA, Kifle Mulat, of the charge of attempting to "violently undermine the constitutional order in the country," over EFJA's criticism of the government crackdown.

Four days later, the eight editors and publishers of Amharic-language newspapers along with 17 other accused, were also acquitted. The court said the government had not proved the case against them. Their publications have been banned since the crackdown.

The High Court tossed out genocide charges against the journalists, rejecting the government's claim that the Tigrayan ethnic group, which forms the base of President Meles Zenawi's party, was targeted during the protests. The charges carried a possible death penalty.

At least nine other journalists, along with 76 other detainees, remain behind bars on similar charges, according to CPJ. The judges ordered them to prepare a defence case and adjourned the trial until the end of the month, says the BBC.

Ethiopia remains Africa's second leading jailer of journalists, behind only Eritrea, says CPJ.

Among the acquitted journalists was Serkalem Fassil, the publisher of "Menilik", "Asqual" and "Satanaw", who gave birth to a child while in prison. Her husband, Eskinder Nega, columnist with the same papers, was also acquitted.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2mejg3
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21632
- BBC "Ethiopia genocide charges dropped": http://tinyurl.com/2rbk3d
(17 April 2007)

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