Press crackdown in Ethiopia, Eritrea

Predictably, even as tensions rise between the two Horn of Africa rivals, Ethiopia and Eritrea are mirroring each other in a crackdown on the press. In a Dec. 12 press release, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists protests the use of “outdated and illegitimate charges” to imprison two journalists in Ethiopia:

Getachew Simie, former editor-in-chief of the defunct Amharic-language weekly Agere, was sentenced on December 7 to three months in prison for criminal defamation. Leykun Engeda, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the Amharic-language weekly Dagim Wonchif, was sentenced on December 9 to 15 months in prison for allegedly publishing false news.

Thirteen journalists have been detained since renewed anti-government protests in early November. They have been accused of treason, held without charge, and denied bail. On December 6, one of the detained journalists, Wosonseged Gebrekidan, was sentenced to eight months in jail, in an unrelated case, for allegedly defaming a former diplomat in a 2002 opinion piece.

Simie was arrested on December 6 and is now in Kality prison on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa, according to a CPJ source. The case against him stemmed from an article printed in Agere in 1998, the source said. Simie has since become a reporter for the Amharic-language weekly Addis Admas. The article described alleged financial mismanagement and corruption at a state-owned textile factory, CPJ sources said. It is unclear who brought the defamation suit against Simie.

The case against Engeda stemmed from an article published in Dagim Wonchif in 1999 about a rebel organization known as the Ethiopian Patriotic Front, according to a CPJ source. Engeda has since left the newspaper and launched a new one, Mechachal. The article alleged that the rebels had scored a military victory against Ethiopian troops. Engeda was also sent to Kality prison after he was sentenced.

Meanwhile, the California-based Eritrean opposition news service Gebad News offers the following Dec. 9 report:

Gedab News has confirmed that Mr. Jimie Kimeil, a journalist who worked for Eritrea AlHadeetha, the state-owned Arabic newspaper, was one of many who were arrested in Asmara on November 24. A veteran of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the forerunner to the PFDJ (Eritrea’s only and ruling party), Jimie Kimiel had been working as the paper’s sports editor since 1992.

No explanation was given for the arrest.

At least a dozen of journalists, most formerly employed by Eritrea’s now-closed private press, have been in prison, without charges, since September 2001. Recently, one of them, the Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaac was reportedly released and his freedom celebrated by his family. The celebration, however, was short-lived when the government announced that his release is for medical reasons and he would be returned back to jail.

In March 2005, another sports journalist, Solomon Abera, defected while on tour to Europe and he has been provided political asylum since then.

A large march by Ethiopian exiles and immigrants against British aid to the Ethiopian regime is reported Dec. 9 by

Thousands of Ethiopians have vented their anger on British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his continued support to state sponsored terrorism and gross human rights violations in Ethiopia.

Blowing whistles, beating drums and chanting rousing slogans, the angry protesters condemned the terrorist crackdown being unleashed by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who was berated as Ethiopia’s Bin Laden. “Mr. Blair, shame on you for supporting a terrorist! Shame on you for supporting a fascist butcher,” the protesters shouted on top of their voice.

London witnessed one of the noisiest rallies ever staged at the heart of the city as the protesters…converged on Whitehall, the seat of the British government. The demonstrators demanded Mr. Blair to press for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience including opposition leaders, journalists, human rights campaigners and over 50,000 fellow citizens who have been illegally detained in harsh concentration camps across Ethiopia.

“George Bush and Tony Blair’s war on terror is meaningless if they continue to be partners with Ethiopia’s Bin Laden, Meles Zenawi, who has been committing terrorism and crimes against humanity with impunity,” said Bruke Ayalew.

“Their interpretation of terrorism seems to be narrow. Terrorism is not just an attack against Westerners, but rather a grossly violent crime committed against humanity. It is outrageous to call Meles a partner on the war on terror while he is terrorizing the people of Ethiopia,” he said.

Backed up with ear piercing whistles and thunderous drums, the marchers demanded Meles Zenawi to, “Stop fascistic killings!”

See our last posts on Ethiopia and Eritrea.