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TWO EDITORS COULD FACE DEATH AFTER HIGH COURT CONVICTIONS

Four editors and three publishing houses in Ethiopia were found guilty on 11 June of links to deadly 2005 protests against alleged poll-rigging, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF). Sentencing is next month and two of the editors could face the death penalty. The exiled Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA) is calling for urgent action from the international community to save their lives.

Hundreds of thousands took part in demonstrations complaining of fraud and vote-rigging by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government in the May 2005 polls. More than 190 people were killed when authorities crushed post-election protests contesting the ruling party's victory, CPJ reports.

Journalists were targeted for their coverage of the government's handling of the controversial elections, says CPJ. Those convicted include editors Andualem Ayle of "Ethiop" and Mesfin Tesfaye of "Abay", who were charged with "outrage against the constitution," and face execution or life in prison. Editor Wenakseged Zeleke of "Asqual" newspaper could get up to 10 years in prison on similar charges. Deputy editor Dawit Fassil of "Satanaw", who had been released on bail in April after being held for 17 months, was sent back to jail and now faces up to three years in prison.

According to RSF, the editors, along with 34 opposition members who were also convicted on similar charges, were found guilty because they refused to recognise the court and did not present evidence in their defence.

The high court also convicted three publishers on related charges: Serkalem, which owns "Asqual", "Menelik" and "Satanaw" newspapers; Sisay, publisher of "Ethiop"; and Fasil, which puts out the "Addis Zena" newspaper. The companies could face heavy fines or be dissolved, reports CPJ. Their publications have been banned since the crackdown.

The ruling follows the acquittal in April of eight editors and publishers on similar charges. The court had said the government had not proved the case against them.

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

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) has issued an urgent action on Ethiopia. Email: [email protected] for more details.

Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2mejl4
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22522
- "IFEX Communiqué" story on acquittal in April: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/82597/
(12 June 2007)

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