INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY COMMITTEE FOR ETHIOPIAN

PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE, ISCEPC

(North American Office, P.O. Box 53022, Medford, MA 02153, USA)

20 JANUARY 1998

PRESS RELEASE

SAVE THE PRESS IN ETHIOPIA!


Reports coming out of Ethiopia continue to indicate the escalation of the abuse of human rights and the absence of peace and tranquility in the country. It is depressing to note that the political landscape of the country remains overcast and cloudy in spite of what the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) congress tried to paint in its recent communique.

Unfortunately, the congresses of TPLF and its satellite ethnic organizations were reminiscent of the congresses of the now defunct Workers Party of Ethiopia. Like the delegates who use to go to listen to Mengistu Haile Mariam's rhetoric and lies, TPLF's delegates who went to Me'kele and Jimma, did not raise the pressing issues of the day. Neither the issues of prisoners of conscience nor the ethnic composition of the army nor the modalities of achieving peace nor substantive governance issues were raised. Hence, like Mengistu's cronies, the delegates to the series of congresses were decoys of Meles Zenawi's circus.

This fact, together with others like the growing tension between EPLF and TPLF and the recent circular by the United Nations' office in Addis Ababa, regarding rescue procedures in the event of an open civil strife in the capital, were printed on TOBIA newspaper. For the past five years, this paper has been and still is regarded by many as the icon of the Ethiopian free press. In spite of the shortage of journalistic skills in the country and the fleeing of well over eighteen news editors out of the country for fear of persecution, TOBIA provided an in-depth analysis of current events and carried news items which are factual. It informed the Ethiopian community in the diaspora through its Internet home page, using the Ethiopic script. TOBIA's readership is estimated to be much higher than any of the government owned newspapers, which by and large contain propaganda.

Like many tyrannical regimes in the world, the leaders of TPLF did not like the free press. Government officials closed their doors to members of the free press. They were denied access to even official briefings. This was clearly observed by the international community when the ex-Secretary of State, H.E. Warren Christopher visited Ethiopia about a year ago. The embargo is still in force.

Members of the free press were and are routinely arrested and imprisoned. As a result, officials of the Ethiopian Free Press Association have been forced to flee into exile. According to the 1997 report of the New York based Committee for the Projection of Journalists (CPJ), Ethiopia ranked one of the worst three countries in the world in the abuse of journalistic rights.

In addition to the above, the International Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Prisoners of Conscience (ISCEPC) has learned that the premises of TOBIA newspaper was burned down on Friday 16 January 1998 at about 8:00 Pm. On the same day, prior to the burning, at about 2:00 pm, four senior journalists of the same newspaper were arrested by a plain clothed police. Their whereabout is unknown. The names are:

. Mr. Goshu Moges, Manager, Atbia Kokob Publishing Co.
. Mr. Biru Tsegaye, Acting Editor
. Mr. Anteneh Merid, Deputy Editor
. Mr. Taye Belachew, Ex-editor

The arrest of the above journalists makes the number of prisoners of conscience in the country to be counted in thousands. The ISCEPC condemns both the dirty trick and the arrest, and hopes that the free press in Ethiopia will not be permanently silenced! We express our sympathy to the imprisoned journalists and call upon the international community to save the free press in Ethiopia.