A court in Ethiopia dropped charges against eighteen people previously accused of trying to overthrow the constitutional order. The eighteen are among one-hundred twenty-five Ethiopians and six foreign nationals who had been charged or jailed. They include five Washington- based Voice of America journalists – Nigussie Mengesha, Addisu Abede, Tizita Belachew, Adanech Fessehaye, and Solomon Kifle – who had been charged in absentia.
The charges followed opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy protests over disputed parliamentary elections in May 2005. The Carter Center reported that the elections were generally credible, although some thirty-one seats were disputed. In the post-election period at least forty demonstrators and security forces were killed and thousands jailed, most of whom have now been released.
VOA Director David Jackson issued a statement saying, "The decision to drop all charges against five Voice of America journalists is a correct one. We have always maintained that these charges were without merit." Mr. Jackson said VOA "will continue to bring accurate and objective news and information to our audience in Ethiopia."
Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent monitoring group, says, "We welcome the dropping of these charges." But, she says, "they should never have been charged in the first place."
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the dropping of the charges "is a welcome step":
"But there are still one-hundred-eleven people who remain in jail. And we continue to be concerned about the serious charges that have been levied against these individuals. We call on the Ethiopian government to ensure a fair, transparent and speedy trial for those charged and we urge the government to provide those detained with sufficient access to their lawyers as well as family members and to doctors for those who may need medical attention."
In a written statement on the situation in Ethiopia, the U.S. State Department says, "A vibrant opposition, independent media, and a robust civil society are essential elements of any democracy. . . . Steps that appear to criminalize dissent impede progress on democratization."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government. For a transcript of this and other V-O-A editorials, or to receive editorials by email, visit the V-O-A Editorials internet home page at www-dot-voanews-dot-com-slash-editorials.