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Journalist Eskinder Nega defends himself in court

UPDATE: Journalist faces verdict on Friday (IPI, 7 May 2012)

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, Mar. 29, 2012 - Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega defended himself against charges of belonging to a terrorist organization in an Ethiopian court yesterday, according a report from Voice of America's Peter Heinlein.

Eskinder Nega faces charges of supporting Ginbot 7, an opposition party that was deemed a terrorist organisation by the Ethiopian authorities last year. The outspoken commentator has long been a thorn in the side of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government.

He and his wife Serkalem Fasil were jailed for months after the disputed elections in 2005, and the publishing company they ran has subsequently been ordered to pay a fine of approximately €6,600. “It's nothing in the American or European context, but for us it's huge,” Eskinder Nega told IPI at the time. “This is the largest fine that has been imposed for a criminal charge, ever. The largest fine against a publisher until now was 15,000 Birr (approx. €830).”

In court on Wednesday, Nega challenged accusations that he conspired to overthrow the government in a 20 minute presentation to the court, Heinlein reported. According to Heinlein, Nega “admitted writing and speaking about whether an Arab Spring-like movement might take root in Ethiopia, and calling for peaceful protests, but denied advocating violence or unconstitutional change.”

Nega has been in jail since his arrest last September.

Earlier this month IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to speak out against the use of anti-terror laws against journalists in Ethiopia, a practice IPI argued "makes a mockery of the universal right to “hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

IPI noted that these cases also undermine “the fight against real terrorists, who use violence - and not words - to achieve their ends.”

“We again call on the authorities to cease labelling critics as terrorists, which is an apparent attempt to silence real dissent and investigative reporting about the ruling party and the current government,” said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. “All journalists currently in jail in Ethiopia should be freed immediately and officially cleared of all wrongdoing.”

Nega is among five journalists who have been jailed under anti-terror laws in Ethiopia over the past year. Woubshet Taye and Reyot Alemu were convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison this January, as were Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johann Persson, who were convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison after they were arrested last year in the company of rebels in the Ogaden region.


Paper fined for coverage of Eskinder Nega trial (CPJ, 4 May 2012)

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    The three journalists were charged in September with lending support to an underground network of banned opposition groups, which has been criminalized under the country's 2009 antiterrorism law.

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