The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Ethiopia to free two journalists that it said had been charged with “outrages against the constitution” and faced a possible death sentence.
“After months of arbitrary detention, the anti-state charges filed against Ethiopian journalists Dessu Dulla and Bikila Amenu, potentially carrying the death penalty, are outrageous,” said CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Angela Quintal, from New York.
“Authorities had months to bring credible charges against the journalists, and the fact they did not only exposes the retaliatory nature of the proceedings,” she said in a statement dated Monday.
The journalists, who work for the social media-based broadcaster Oromia News Network, were arrested last November and charged on April 7 in Ethiopia’s Oromia region.
The network is considered close to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) opposition party, which halted an armed struggle when its leaders returned home after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018 – the first Oromo to hold the top job.
The CPJ statement said the two journalists were expected to appear in court again on Tuesday after repeated adjournments.
“Ethiopian authorities should... drop all charges against them, and stop targeting members of the press,” said the US-based non-profit CPJ.
Their lawyer Gudane Fekadu told the committee that the pair could face three years to life in prison if convicted.
But, he warned, the prosecution wants article 258 of the penal code to be applied, which would compel courts to issue death sentences for outrages against the constitution under aggravating circumstances – if, for instance, the offence was committed during a civil war.
Since November 2020 the Ethiopian government has been fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is allied with the Oromo Liberation Army, a breakaway faction from the OLF.
Meanwhile, the head of Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele, issued a statement on Tuesday, World Press Freedom Day, voicing concern after the arrest by police on Sunday of another journalist.
The whereabouts of Gobeze Sisay, a critic of the government, are now unknown, the statement said.
Sisay, who had previously worked for pro-government media, is seen as controversial for his support of the Amhara community, Ethiopia’s second biggest after the Oromo.
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