Ethiopian authorities jail two journalists

Authorities have jailed two Ethiopian journalists for articles published up to seven years ago, raising the number of reporters imprisoned since a renewed crackdown on the independent press to at least 15, a media watchdog said Tuesday. Getachew Simie, former editor-in-chief of the defunct Amharic-language weekly Agere, was sentenced on December 7 to three months in prison for criminal defamation. Leykun Engeda, former editor-in-chief and publisher of the Amharic-language weekly Dagim Wonchif, was sentenced on December 9 to 15 months in prison for allegedly publishing false news.

"It is scandalous that Ethiopian authorities have persisted in using outdated and illegitimate charges to send these journalists to jail," said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"We call on authorities to release our Ethiopian colleagues immediately, and to work toward removing criminal penalties for press offenses," said the head of the New York-based international media watchdog. Ethiopian authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Thirteen journalists have been detained since renewed anti-government protests in early November. They have been accused of treason, held without charge, and denied bail, according to the media watchdog. On Dec. 6, one of the detained journalists, Wosonseged Gebrekidan, was sentenced to eight months in jail, in an unrelated case, for allegedly defaming a former diplomat.

Simie was arrested on Dec. 6 on charges that stemmed from an article printed in 1998 that described alleged financial mismanagement and corruption at a state-owned textile factory. It is unclear who brought the defamation suit against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said, quoting local sources.

The case against Engeda stemmed from an article published in 1999 about a rebel organization known as the Ethiopian Patriotic Front. The article alleged that the rebels had scored a military victory against Ethiopian troops, according to the media watchdog, reports the AP. I.L.

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