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Ethiopian Authorites Use Prison System To Torture Journalist Woubshet Taye

Bernhane and son Fiteh (Pic. CPJ)


In its post on October 17, this bloghighlighted the plight of three Ethiopian journalists – Malaku Desmisse, Woubshet Taye and Eskinder Nega – among many who are behind bars for exposing the country’s brutal government.
On October 13, Taye had been awarded the Press Freedom Award at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards 2013. But he was not there to receive it. He was serving the second year of a 14-year jail term after he was falsely charged under the country’s counterterrorism laws. His wife, Bernhane Tesfaye and five-year-old son picked up the award instead.
In a recent interview with Tom Rhodes, the East Africa representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Tesfaye described the inhumanity of Ethiopia’s prison system and the vindictiveness of its government.
A common form of punishment that authoritarian regimes, which adapt the prison system to persecute inmates more than by confining them, is by frequent transfers from prison facility to prison facility. Taye’s experiences are a perfect example.
“It is at Ziway, an isolated facility roughly 83 miles southeast of the capital, where heat, dust, and contaminated water have likely led to a severe kidney infection in Woubshet. The award-winning journalist was meant to receive medical treatment while at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, Woubshet’s wife, Berhane Tesfaye, told me, but it never took place. Suffering in such pain in his ribs and hip that he cannot sleep, Woubshet has not even received painkillers, according to local journalists who visited him,” writes Rhodes.
As Rhodes goes on to say, “While debates over the reasons for Woubshet’s arrest may persist, there is one point on which all sides should agree: Woubshet must be allowed access to medical treatment.”

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Melaku Desmisse, Latest Victim Of Ethiopia’s War On Journalists

 Woubshet’s wife Tesfaye with award (CPJ)


The illegal arrest and release on October 9 of Melaku Desmisse, editor of the Amharic-language publication The Reporter, is the latest in a series of assaults Addis Ababa has carried out against media freedom in Ethiopia. It comes at a time when other Ethiopian journalists including Woubshet Taye, Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega, charged under the country’s counterterrorism laws languish in jail.
Desmisse was illegally arrested near Addis Ababa by police from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State (SNNPR) and transferred to Awasa, the capita of SNNPR.
Amare Aregawi, editor of The Reporter told the Sudan Tribunethat Desmisse was “illegally transferred” from Addis Ababa to SNNPR. “It was up to the court’s decision to transfer him to a regional state and not of the Police,” the Sudan Tribune quoted Aregawi as saying.

The Paris-based Reporters without Border (RSF), while recording Desmisse’s illegal arrest has not reported his release. RSF said, “The SNNPR police have no jurisdiction in Addis Ababa and it is completely illegal for them to seize a journalist working there. If Desmisse is accused of breaking any law, he should be brought before a federal court in Addis Ababa, which alone has the authority to try him. In the meantime, we call for the immediate release of this journalist, especially as the reason for his arrest remains puzzling.”
     
Although details are scanty, reports said it appeared that Desmisse was arrested for The Reporter’s story on September 4 that three vice presidents of SNNPR had been dismissed. The story was incorrect. The newspaper however had retraced the story and issued an apology on September 8.
Meanwhile, at a ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa on October 13, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the Awramba Times, who is serving a 14-year prison term convicted of terrorism, was lauded for his courage. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Taye was awarded the Press Freedom Award at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards 2013. Taye’s wife Berhane Tesfaye and young son accepted the award on his behalf.
CPJ said, “[c]hair of the judging panel and editor-in-chief of the South African weekly City Press, Ferial Haffajee said it was disappointing that ‘once again there were too many cases’ for the judges to consider in this category, which recognizes ‘excellence and provides support to African journalists who report at continuing risk to their lives and safety.'”
Taye has served two years of his 14-year sentence that was handed down in 2012. After he was arrested in 2011, the newspaper’s editor fled the country and publication came to a halt. Berhane Tesfaye said that Taye had been moved from Addis Ababa to Ziwaye prison 83 miles away in April this year. She said although she visited him every two weeks, Taye’s father (102) and mother (90) were too old to undertake the journey.
“In September, Woubshet’s application for a presidential pardon was rejected, according to news sources,” CPJ said.
Eskander Nega is another journalist convicted for “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement, and attempt” under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. He was found guilty in June 2012 and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In May the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence. Nega has now appealed to the Court of Cassation.
“Eskinder … denied all the charges against him, saying he has never conspired to overthrow the government through violence and admitting only to reporting on the Arab Spring and speculating on whether a similar movement would take place in Ethiopia. Eskinder’s wife, fellow journalist Serkalem Fasil, maintained that Eskinder is ‘a journalist, not a member of a political party,'” says PEN America that has advocated for Nega’s release.
Nega was the general manager of Serkalem Publishing House that published three newspapers, all banned in the country. He was also a columnist for news magazine Change ad the US-based Ethiomedia, which are also banned.