(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:
ETHIOPIAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS JOIN JOURNALISTS IN JAIL
A new crackdown is apparently going on in Ethiopia (1), where two human rights defenders are being detained without charge (2), several people were killed by police during a peaceful demonstration, journalists are suffering renewed harassment and the authorities have attempted to intimidate news vendors.
Andrew Puddephatt, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 said:
"As our new report on the 1999-2000 famine shows (3), it is literally a matter of life and death that Ethiopians are able to circulate information freely and debate matters of public interest. We are seriously concerned that official tolerance for free expression and association seems to have declined dramatically in recent months."
Human rights activists Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam and Dr Berhanu Nega were arrested on 8 May 2001 and accused of "inciting students" following a meeting on human rights. They remain in jail, having been denied access to their lawyers and refused bail twice.
Recent student activism appears to have sparked a new wave of official action against journalists and others involved with the media. According to ARTICLE 19's sources, charges have been filed against several journalists. Kidus Habt Belachew, editor-in-chief of Mebrek newspaper, reported to the Central Investigation Department (CID) on 10 May and made a statement to police in connection with reports his newspaper carried on the demands of Addis Ababa University students. He was released on bail of 10,000 birr (approx. US$1,210). The CID has also asked the editors-in-chief of several other newspapers to report to its office.
On 20 April 2001 the police rounded up newspaper and magazine vendors. They were released on 21 April, on condition that they stop their vending activities. Circulation of newspapers outside Addis Ababa has been severely affected by this action.
Although six journalists have been released from jail since the beginning of 2001, two are currently in prison and many others are on bail awaiting trial. Solomon Nemera, from the defunct weekly Urji, has been imprisoned since October 1997 and Daniel Gezzahegne, deputy editor-in-chief of Mogad newspaper, has been in jail since 4 May 2001.
1. Thousands of students and other demonstrators were arrested in connection with the demonstration on 17 April. These included over 100 members of the opposition Ethiopian Democratic Party, over 30 members of the All-Amhara People's Organization, and some 100 students, mostly from Addis Ababa University. Many of the students are being held incommunicado.
2. According to Amnesty International, following the arrest of Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam the offices of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council were shut down by armed police for ten days with no reason given. Professor Mesfin Wolde-Mariam is former Secretary General of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) and Dr Berhanu Nega is President of the Ethiopian Economic Association and a supporter of EHRCO.
3. Ethiopia: Still Starving in Silence? is on ARTICLE 19's website at www.article19.org/docimages/1034.htm.