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Three journalists detained for 13 days on criminal defamation charges, their newspapers' equipment confiscated

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 6 March 2008 CPJ press release:

Two newspaper editors, publisher arrested for libel in Ethiopia

New York, March 6, 2008 - The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the recent arrest and two-week imprisonment of three journalists from Muslim-oriented newspapers on criminal defamation charges in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Editor Ezedin Mohamed and Publisher Maria Kadim of Al Kidus and Editor Ibrahim Mohamed of Selefia were arrested on February 16 and held for nearly two weeks. All three were released on February 29 on a bail of 20,000 Birr (US$2,127) each, Ezedin Mohamed said.

The editors and publisher were arrested for reprinting a letter that was purportedly written by Elias Redman, the vice president of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, according to the two editors and local news reports. Reprinted from the Web site Ethiopianmuslims, the letter criticized the minister of education's proposed policy to ban school prayers at public education institutions.

Redman said the letter had not actually been written by him; he filed a complaint with the Addis Ababa police that said the two newspapers had damaged the council's relations with the government, according to local journalists.

"CPJ condemns the criminal prosecution for defamation of these journalists," said CPJ's executive director Joel Simon. "Use of the criminal law is designed to muzzle critical journalism - those who believe they have been libelled can pursue a case in civil court. We call on the authorities to drop the prosecution immediately and return all equipment seized from the newspapers."

The police confiscated computers and printers from both newspaper offices; none of the equipment has yet been returned, the editors told CPJ.

This is not the first time these publications have been arbitrarily targeted by the government. A day after the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, on December 21, police arrested and detained Ezedin Mohamed for six days without charge, he said.

According to local reports, the police have not finished their investigation into the current case and it has not been decided yet whether the court case will recommence. The editors say they are facing serious financial challenges due to what they say was an exorbitant bail price and the confiscated equipment. Al Kidus was able to continue publishing over the last few weeks while Selefia has not been able to produce an issue but hope to this week.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org

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