Ethiopia’s High Court Monday acquitted and freed eight editors and publishers of Amharic language newspapers. The journalists had been in jail on anti-state charges since a November 2005 government crackdown.
Joel Simon is the executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He said the CPJ welcomes the journalists’ release, but it was also concerned about the others still in jail.
“Obviously we’re pleased, yet at the same time we remain concerned about the other nine journalists who remain in jail facing serious charges. And of course we’re concerned that this verdict took so long. These journalists have been in custody for so long now, and that’s a period of their lives that can’t be returned to them,” he said.
Simon said the length of the journalists’ detention has moved Ethiopia up to the second leading jailer of journalists in Africa behind its neighbor Eritrea.
“The traditional relationship between the government and the press has been tense. There’s been punitive press laws applied to the press; there’s been revolving door of jailing journalists for short periods of time and then releasing them. But the scope of this prosecution and the length of incarceration were really unprecedented and cause for considerable concern,” Simon said.
Simon confirmed that one of the female journalists – Serkalem Fassil - gave birth to a child while in jail. A CPJ release said her husband, Eskinder Nega was also acquitted on three additional charges connected with his alleged political activism.
Simon said CPJ would continue to focus on press freedom issues in Ethiopia.
“We’ve been consistent and criticizing the government for their treatment of the press, and clearly a functioning press is an essential element of any democracy, and a countries that routinely jail journalists on this scale, their democratic commitment is going to be questioned,” he said.
Simon said the CPJ would continue to work for charges to be dropped against the other journalists still being detained.
“What we’re going to do is continue to raise this issue, continue to voice our concern, continue to cover the actions of the Ethiopian government, continue to publicize their plight. And we’re not along; we’re just one organization involved in this effort, but there’s really an international outcry about the treatment of journalists in Ethiopia and widespread concern about the country’s press freedom record,” Simon said.