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Prosecutor seeks death penalty for four convicted journalists

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an 11 July 2007 IFJ media release:

IFJ Says Ethiopian Court Must Reject Death Penalty Demand for Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on an Ethiopian court to reject the prosecutor's demand for the death penalty for four journalists who have been convicted, along with opposition members and activists, of attempting to overthrow the government, treason and inciting violence.

"We condemn this cruel and unreasonable demand by the prosecution who wants journalists sentenced to death merely for doing their job," said Gabriel Baglo, Director of the IFJ Africa office. "We call on the Court of Kaliti to reject this demand and drop all the charges against the journalists and all the other prisoners of conscience jailed in Ethiopia."

On Monday the prosecutor in the case demanded that the Court in Kaliti - on the outskirts of Addis Ababa - sentence journalists Andualem Ayele Legesse of Ethiop newspaper, Mesfin Tesfaye Gobena of Abay, Wonakseged Zeleke Tessema of Asqual and Dawit Fasil Woldeselassie of Satenaw to death. The journalists were convicted along with 34 opposition members and activists on 11 June 2007. They were arrested during the violent suppression of anti-government riots in November 2005 that came after elections in the country six months earlier.

According to reports, the government may be negotiating a deal with the prisoners that would have them recognise their responsibility in the violence in exchange for a pardon after the sentence.

The court ordered the accused to present their evidence by 11 July. The proceedings will resume on 16 July.

The journalists and the other accused have refused to recognise the court or defend themselves because of the political nature of their arrests and detentions.

"The charges against our colleagues in Ethiopia are without merit and are being used to intimidate and silence all media in the country," Baglo said. "Sadly Ethiopia has a long history of trampling press freedom but sentencing these journalists to death would push the country to a new low for human rights and freedom of expression."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries.

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