Terrorists? A look at two jailed Ethiopian journalists – By Tom Rhodes

July 22nd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

At the end of June, Ethiopia’s Anti-Terror Task Force arrested nine people on charges of attempting to “destroy electrical and telecommunication infrastructures” with support from Ethiopia’s arch-enemy, Eritrea. (more…)

At the end of June, Ethiopia’s Anti-Terror Task Force arrested nine people on charges of attempting to “destroy electrical and telecommunication infrastructures” with support from Ethiopia’s arch-enemy, Eritrea. Held under Ethiopia’s far-reaching antiterrorism law, only four of the suspects’ names have so far been revealed and two of them happen to be journalists.

Dawit Kebede, managing editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times and a 2010 CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner, said he was stunned by the news. His longtime university friend and colleague, Awramba Times Deputy Editor Woubshet Taye is one of the suspects. “I have never been so surprised in my life and the same applies to the rest of our staff,” Kebede told me. He called Woubshet “a stickler for the rule of law. I cannot think of a less likely terrorist.”

Temesgen Desalegn, editor of another independent weekly, Feteh (meaning “Justice”), was also shocked to discover his columnist, Reeyot Alemu, was arrested for terrorism. “Yes Reeyot was a critical writer but a terrorist? You could never read anything in her articles that would convey any antistate tendencies,” Desalegn told me.

Kebede has known his friend and colleague Woubshet Taye for 11 years since their days studying journalism together at Unity University in the capital, Addis Ababa. Kebede and Taye started working together in 2004, as Taye became a senior reporter for the now-defunct private weekly, Hadar. Taye, like Kebede, has had his share of run-ins with Ethiopian authorities. Both were arrested during the government crackdown on the independent press following the disputed 2005 elections. An avid reader, Taye donated 200 books to Awramba Times when the publication was launched in 2008. But he almost resigned fromAwramba Times during the May 2010 elections after the director of the state broadcasting authority accused him of inciting and misguiding the public. Taye and Kebede had written a piece a week earlier that raised questions about the lack of public enthusiasm for the May 2010 elections, which the ruling party swept.

Alemu, 28, has worked primarily as a high school English teacher. For a short time, she served as editor of a private weekly, Addis Press, before the paper dissolved several months ago, said Desalegn, who recruited her to write a political column for Feteh. Even while working long hours as a journalist, he said, Alemu continued to teach. Just before her arrest, she was planning to marry and start a family. Her students and colleagues are in disbelief over the charges, Desalegn added.

Both Kebede and Desalegn fear the government is bringing the terrorism charges as a way to silence their publications. Knowing that a direct closure of either publication would lead to both local and international condemnation, “the arrest of Reeyot works as a warning light for us to censor our reporting,” Desalegn said.

Both publications have faced intimidation from authorities and been targeted in smear campaigns by pro-government and government-controlled state media. Since Feteh started in 2008, authorities have questioned Desalegn twice and filed a staggering 41 lawsuits against him. Desalegn and Kebede have decided to continue publishing as best they can under the circumstances.

Beyond vague public accusations, the Ethiopian government has yet to present any evidence against Taye and Alemu. The journalists are expected to remain in jail for at least another month after a magistrate this week granted prosecutors an extension of 28 days to pursue “investigations,” according to local journalists.


Tom Rhodes is CPJ’s East Africa consultant, based in Nairobi. Rhodes is a founder of southern Sudan’s first independent newspaper. Follow him on Twitter: @africamedia_CPJ

  1. Beya
    | #1

    The tigre people liberation front, TPLF, fear the ‘pen’ more than any other weapon in the arsenal of the Ethiopian people. These young journalists stood for the freedom of expression, told the truth to the Ethiopian people as it should be told. It is now time that we stand for them in the international arena and on the domestic front.

    -THESE JOURNALIST ARE THE VOICE FOR THE VOICELESS ETHIOPIA MASSES

    -THEre is no evidence to suggest that the journalists have done anything to harm the Ethiopian people, to terrorise the people

    -These journalists are for one, light shining in the dark alley our country has found itself in , in its long history.

    -These journalists are saying enough is enough , let the truth be known to the people,
    We can not just stand on the side and watch while this ethnocentric dictator, meles, is dessimating the country. where is going to stop?

    Silence means that we are collaborating with the oppressors of the Ethiopian people. Do something!

  2. Sheger
    | #2

    May be he (Meles) should be clean of being an Eritirian first. We know who is the arch Enemy of Ethiopia and those
    Are blood trust bully outsiders, arrogant, thieves, selfish, demon autocrats, some GATEWOTS who creates rules as they like for their protection of power and greed who loughs at every manner and wisdom possible who chosen the wrong way of life who denied God and stood with evil. What do we do with this kind of people??????? And what made them
    Venerable to this kind of mentality? Is it poovrity? What kind??? The whole nation is kind of poor, what makes them especial?????

    METNAY.

    Release all political prisoners. Freedom to all independent press and media outlets. Freedom to the people.
    Other wise we will send you back to where you come from, wether that is LIBYA or MOROCO, or YEMEN or SUDAN,
    OR EGYPT OR were ever that is.

    COMPRENDO???????

  3. Ezra
    | #3

    I could not have said it any better , great job BEYA TPLF DOES FEAR THE PEN . TPLF DAYS WELL COME TO END SOON , THIS IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF THE FEAR TPLF POSSES.

  4. Sheger
    | #4

    When some Nigerians Somalians Gebutians come to our country and buys property, does that mean this people are Ethiopians, do they give them a resident card or Nationality of Ethiopia? You know what I mean? Why don’t we live together then what is their deal about killing us???? Who are they? Don’t they have a country of their own????
    You know what, this things are a big part of the matter that created the inflation in Ethiopia. And can a BRITON
    Or a NORWESIAN a FIRENCH AN ETALIAN OR some body els can do that????? Why not they probable have
    Better money to give to people when buying house or land ETC….if money is what the people need or want alltimatly
    Beyond their existence. And I believe this people have a better manner than Nigerians, Somalians, or Arabs and Musilim type people in General. At this time or moment at least. The west has grown a lot out of Ethinesisem and
    Religious divid. They are more liberal democratize than you can think of. The fact a lot of us lives in their countries
    while they are told to go away in places like Arab countries and some places in Africa and some Carebian countries
    Is a testimony of their advancement in modern thinking. I am not saying this to sell a weight man to any body if you
    Will excuse me but it is the truth. And they help a lot of poor countries like Ethiopia wether we get the help or not.

    Some time I wonder what can we do for them when they are in need of us? What do they need?????? We should not forget that we all Re human beings.

  5. Abu Anja
    | #5

    By all appearances TPLF’s number of days at the helm of political power is limited. This is the sign of fear and panic. Why arrest two journalists for no discernable reason It has to stop at some point, period.The time is coming soon that Issay’s will have Meles’ head on the platter.What is even worse the fate of that Eritrean who carries the bag of Meles, Berket Simmon will be hanged at the palace in Matswa, Insha Allah.Ethiopia will extend it hands to Allah, as EPLF extend its spindly arms to tiny TPLF. Amen

  6. Sam
    | #6

    I have read this article very carefully. I have a zero doubt at least the two journalists are political prisoners. The government that accused with anti-terrorism sent the two journalists to prison because one might surmise the government had the goods on them. Not in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia the government locks you up and then looks false accusations that might stick afterward. Not really that stick. Rather something that enables the government to give talking points to the “Waltas” of Ethiopia. They would come out swinging their anti-Ethiopia slogans better than Berket does.Prosecutors are now busy looking for evidence. Until they fabricate evidence the guys are counted as sheeps every night by prison guards. Democracy in action. You cannot get better than that. I have a hard time figuring out why EPDRF seems in total panick at the time the opposition is in not good shape. Or the better question is that EPDRF on the way to obliterate the opposition parties functioning in Ethiopia? If these two journalists were thrown to prison with trumped-up charges , would the opposition politicians be safe in being opposition politicians? I doubt not. The message to anybody who is willing to hear is Ethiopia will be ruled by EPDRF for centuries to come. If you have problem with that…

  7. Abu Anja
    | #7

    By all appearances TPLF’s number of days at the helm of political power is limited. It seized by morbid fear and panic. Why arrest two journalists for no discernable reason It has to stop at some point, period.The time is coming soon that Issay’s will have Meles’ head on the platter.What is even worse the fate of that prefidious Eritrean who carries Melles’ bag, Berket Simmon will be hanged at the palace in Matswa, Insha Allah. For now Ethiopia will extend it hands to Allah, as EPLF extend its spindly arms to tiny TPLF. Amen
    No trackbacks yet.

  8. Sheger
    | #8

    One more thing. They are every seriuoselly against Ethiopian Royal family’s. Who can infacte can say to them
    What the hake are you doing to my people and kingdom?. I am sure that Egypt and Libya has a lot to do about
    Getting read of the Dynasty rule. Besides some couldn’t stop talking about them they still about what happened to Gondere at heart of New York as the LOIN KING broad way show. By the way, can Aster fall in love With Jams Bruss?
    What is wrong with that a Jew person can not be mixed with some body, she is a half Jew a half Ethiopian a half
    Possibly Portugees, so what is wrong with that??? Or may be our kings like Fassiledess shouldn’t marry a Portugees
    Then if he doesn’t want his kids to mix with others. I believe she was a Childe or Grand Childe of king Fassiledess
    How ever they don’t say her fathers name my be because after they killed two of her brothers for power she inherited
    The kingdom any they don’t say the names of the fathers of the kings and queens , like Minilike is called just MINILIKE
    And stuff but how ever who ever wanted to be her husband didn’t sucsid, she fall in love with a foreigner, and she got
    Casted away from Gonder with her childirens from the foreigner by so many silly reason given. And that was the end
    Of Gonder Kind of. I know this because I am Ethiopian and I am there one of her childirence. But how ever despite
    How long a go this was I am sure even then Egypt has some thing to do with it. If you know who invaded Egypt
    Itself by then, you know the turks Arabs and so on under the name Otaman empire, who distroyed Gonder, killed most of the kings including ase YOHANIS left Ethiopia with misery and then you have the Italians, beenkirt laye jorro geddif.

    And still are.

    And there are their remencensis all over the country. I don’t know how long they wore there but there are people even
    In Gonder that are Turks, Egyptians and so on but mixed and unmixed and they hate Ethiopia. Why don’t they just go
    Where ever it is, we have our own say too bout them. We don’t have to live like some unfit husband and wife who argues all the time instead of call it over.

  9. guest
    | #9

    by aresting journalists and silencing the indipendent media the current regime in ethiopiaa can not achive it’s dictatorial rule rather it will excpose it self how they are anti free media anti freedem of exceperession.free poloitical prisioners from ethiopian prision now

  10. Sheger
    | #10

    About Gonder any ways, how ever the story is told they I think are talking about them. Not saying they are telling the true
    Story.

  11. Sheger
    | #11

    If you want me to anelise this two journalists by there look, one of the male looks like an Oromo/Yemeny Ethiopian
    Or just some regular Ethiopian, the lady looks like, some Ethiopian Italian or Jew mix. After all Italy took over Israel at some pont and most Israelys are a mixed of Italy and vis vera, any ways but how ever since people don’t think that way we should be thinking about. I don’t know what. If you say God, we all do.

  12. Sheger
    | #12

    Besides when we say Europe, we can simply be talking about Israel despite what Europe thinks or knows. Not that makes as not Israelllys. But any how all of as all human beings on this planet can be or are Israelyes.

  13. Sheger
    | #13

    And speaking of this journalists, I am not saying they are terrorists or not. But can we find out who they really are? May be.

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