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Envoy visits jailed journalist in Addis Ababa

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today completed a fact-finding mission in Ethiopia with a visit to jailed journalist Tamirate Zuma at the Kerchele Penitentiary in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Zuma is currently the only journalist jailed for his work in Ethiopia. He
is
being held on various charges, including defamation and inciting the people
to rebellion.

During a one-week stay in Addis Ababa, CPJ Africa program coordinator Yves
Sorokobi was received by senior government officials. He met with
opposition
and human rights activists, as well as with journalists from both the state
and private press. Sorokobi also conveyed CPJ's views at a press conference
on October 3 that was well attended by local and international journalists.

In an October 8 meeting with Deputy Justice Minister Ato Ali Suleiman, CPJ
urged the Ethiopian government to release Zuma and to repeal the more
restrictive provisions of Ethiopia's Press Proclamation No. 34 of 1992, the
legal instrument used to jail Zuma and many other Ethiopian journalists in
recent years.

Sorokobi also urged the government to improve the private media's access to
government information and to drop pending charges against nearly 80 local
journalists. A broad amnesty for press offences would give Ethiopian
journalism a much needed boost, Sorokobi argued.

The deputy justice minister reacted positively to CPJ's suggestions, saying
that there was an urgent need for improvement of press conditions in
Ethiopia. He agreed to forward CPJ's recommendations to the relevant
government institutions.

Ethiopia's last jailed journalist
Zuma, former editor of the now defunct Ahmaric weekly AtKurout, was
arrested
in late May for failing to post bail of 16,000 Birr (US$2,000) on four
separate charges of violating Press Proclamation No. 34.

The charges include defamation, based on an AtKurout article about alleged
financial mismanagement at a government-owned leather factory, and inciting
violence or rebellion, based on another article in which a retired general
was quoted predicting the imminent overthrow of the Ethiopian People's
Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) government.

During a one-hour conversation with Sorokobi in the prison director's
office, Zuma complained of not having access to proper medical care and
newspapers.

Prison director Ato Nigusie Gedere promised to address these issues
immediately, emphasizing that he was opposed on principle to the jailing of
news professionals. Gedere justified the detentions, however, by claiming
that many Ethiopian journalists were prone to ethical lapses. This view was
echoed by nearly all government officials interviewed by CPJ during the
last
week.

Zuma said that he was generally in good spirits and that CPJ's visit was a
big morale boost. But he also expressed concern for his family, especially
his elderly parents, whom he was supporting financially until his arrest.

Signs of improvement?
During his stay in Addis Ababa, Sorokobi spoke at a panel discussion on
ethics in African journalism and the government's responsibilities
vis-a-vis
the press. Held at Addis Ababa's Yerusalem Hotel on October 6, the meeting
brought together journalists from all sides of Ethiopia's highly
politicized
media scene.

The ruling EPRDF is sensitive to criticism and still holds hundreds of
opposition and labor union activists in prison.

In the last year, Ethiopia has seen a gradual improvement in its press
freedom climate after nearly a decade as Africa's leading jailer of
journalists. (That infamous distinction is now held by neighboring
Eritrea.)
At the end of 2000, seven Ethiopian journalists were in prison for their
work, according to CPJ research.

CPJ plans to release a full report on its findings at a later date.

For more information about press freedom conditions in Ethiopia, visit
www.cpj.org . CPJ is a New York-based, independent,
nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.

For further information, contact Richard Murphy (x108), Adam Posluns
(x107),
or Yves Sorokobi at CPJ, 330 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10001, U.S.A., tel:
+1 212 465 1004, fax: +1 212 465 9568, e-mail: [email protected],
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected], Internet:
http://www.cpj.org/

The information contained in this press release/update is the sole
responsibility of CPJ. In citing this material for broadcast or
publication,
please credit CPJ.
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