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Six journalists get jail terms ranging from 18 months to life

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced outrage at the Federal High Court's decision, on 16 July 2007, to sentence six journalists to jail terms ranging from six months to life. They are part of a group of 43 government opponents who were tried together. Most of them were found guilty of "trying to overthrow constitutional rule."

"We are certainly relieved that court president Adil Ahmed did not accept prosecutor Abraha Tetemke's request for the application of the death sentence, but imposing life imprisonment on journalists who, to our knowledge, were just doing their job is outrageous," the Reporters Without Borders said.

"After the acquittal of eight journalists in April, we had reason to hope that Ethiopia would finally respect the right of its citizens to free speech," Reporters Without Borders added. "Today's sentences will just fuel tension in the country. We hope the defendants will be able to appeal and that the judges will then treat them with clemency."

The high court sentences were passed on 43 members of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy, of whom six are journalists. They were arrested for taking party in opposition protests in November 2005 following disputed legislative elections.

"Ethiop" editor-in-chief Andualem Ayele received a life sentence, as did two other journalists who were tried in absentia, "Menilik" editor-in-chief Zelalem Guebre and "Netsanet" editor-in-chief Abey Gizaw. "Asqual" editor-in-chief Wonakseged Zeleke was sentenced to three years in prison. It is not yet known what sentence was passed on "Abay" editor-in-chief Mesfin Tesfaye.

Dawit Fassil, deputy editor-in-chief of the now defunct weekly "Satenaw", who was found guilty of "publishing inaccurate information", was sentenced to 18 months in prison. After spending 17 months in prison, he was released on bail in April and then re-arrested. The court is discussing the possibility of releasing him in view of the time he has already served.

The court also imposed heavy fines on the Serkalem, Sisay and Fassil press groups and ordered that they be disbanded.

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