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» 07.10.2010 - Ethiopia urged to free all political prisoners
» 04.03.2010 - Mercenary activities focus at Addis Ababa meeting
» 04.01.2010 - Eritrea was provoked - government
» 22.12.2009 - Five sentenced to death and 33 to life
» 17.12.2009 - Sweden minister speaks on freedom of expression in Ethiopia
» 08.12.2009 - RSF condemns closure of newspaper in Ethiopia
» 29.10.2009 - Ethiopia launches 2010 elections campaign
» 19.10.2009 - Ethiopia rebels deny state media reports

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Society | Media | Human rights

Ethiopia frees opposition activists, journalists

afrol News, 22 March - An Ethiopian court today granted a state prosecutor's request to drop charges of treason and genocide against 18 opposition activists and journalists, including five 'Voice of America' journalists. The journalists were indicted along with dozens of opposition leaders and civil society activists following anti-government protests last year.

At a hearing in Addis Ababa today, Ethiopia's Federal High Court ordered that charges be dropped against the group of 18 persons that had been accused of high treason and genocide, thus risking the death penalty. Among the group were five 'Voice of America' (VOA) journalists and another radio journalist being tried in absentia.

No reason was given for the dismissal of charges against the five Ethiopian journalists who work for VOA in Washington. But according to sources contacted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), "US diplomatic pressure may have played a part." VOA, which is funded by the US government, broadcasts into Ethiopia in the main national language, Amharic.

Charges were also dropped against a journalist for the Washington-based radio station 'Netsanet Le Ethiopia Radio', which is available on the Internet and is strongly critical of the Ethiopian government. Charges remain, however, against several other exiled journalists charged in absentia, according to CPJ.

The Ethiopian government cracked down on the private press after opposition demonstrations in November against alleged poll rigging in May elections that returned Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to power. At least 46 people were killed in the November clashes with security forces, international news agencies reported.

In similar protests in June, at least 42 people died. The Ethiopian Federal High Court will continue to hear cases against some 100 opposition leaders, aid workers and journalists on charges that stem from the November violence.

This month, a CPJ delegation met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and asked for the release of the 16 journalists currently in jail in Ethiopia. Fourteen of them are facing anti-state charges. The CPJ delegation also visited the prison where most journalists are held, and met with some of those charged with treason and genocide. The journalists all professed their innocence. They include Serkalem Fassil, 26, who is five months pregnant.

Today, however, the press freedom group was satisfied with the court ruling. "We welcome the dropping of these ridiculous charges against VOA staff," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper in a statement today. "But they should never have been charged in the first place. We call on the government to release all journalists imprisoned for their work in Ethiopia immediately," Ms Cooper added.

Also VOA Director David Jackson today welcomed the move by the Ethiopian judiciary. He said the VOA had always maintained the charges were "without merit" and said employees of the US state-owned media would "continue to bring accurate and objective news to Ethiopia," according to the VOA website.

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