In Ethiopia, the trial of
a controversial pop star is raising questions about the independence of the
judiciary and of the press. The government has arrested a journalist covering
the court hearings and a defense attorney. Both men are expected to appear in
court today (Wednesday).
Ethiopia’s rising pop and reggae singer Teddy
Afro has been in jail since April. He was charged with a hit and run road
accident and remains in jail after being denied bail. Teddy has pleaded
non-guilty, and his attorney argues that prosecutors have not presented enough
evidence to detain his client.
But as of Monday, the defense attorney, as well
as a journalist covering the trial joined the pop singer behind bars.
Mesfin Negash, the editor of a weekly newspaper
in the Ethiopian capital could be sentenced to up to six months in prison, if
found guilty of contempt of court. Facing the same charges and also in police
custody is Teddy Afro’s defense attorney Million Assefa, who was quoted in an
article published by the paper.
The judge overseeing the case said the interview
constituted interference in the due process of law. He issued a subpoena for
One of the editors of the newspaper Dagninet
Mekonnen says his paper has done no wrong.
“We have absolute right to publish this material.
The content of the interview with Teddy Afro’s lawyer Ato Million Assefa was
that he (the attorney) wants to sue the judge for not complying with the right
procedures. We have nothing to do with condemning the due process of law at
New York based Committee to Protect Journalists,
the CPJ and Reporters Without Borders criticized the arrest of the journalist
in separate statements. CPJ Africa Program research associate Mohamed Keita
calls it a systematic way to detain journalists covering sensitive issues.
“It is rather unfortunate that a journalist be
detained for essentially interviewing the lawyer of Teddy Afro and essentially
doing his job.”
Journalists who were in court yesterday to report
the incitement of the attorney and the journalist, said a US Embassy
representative was present in the hearing.
Teddy Afro’s high-profile trial has grabbed the
attention of many of his fans. Thousands of his followers rally in front of the
courthouse whenever he appears in court. Within minutes, the police reportedly
break up their demonstrations.
Government-controlled radio stations in Ethiopia
have banned songs from Teddy Afro’s third album “yasteseryal”. “yasteseryal”
makes an implicit mockery of what it sees as failure of political movements in
the country since a socialist military junta overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie
This tune was particularly popular during
Ethiopia’s parliamentary election in 2005. And many say the ban shows the
singer is indeed controversial and that his trial is a political gimmick.