Ethiopia's government has formally charged 131 political opponents, journalists, and others with crimes ranging from treason to genocide.
About 50 of the defendants were present as prosecutors filed the charges in an Addis Ababa courtroom on Dec. 21. Many of those absent from the proceeding were outside the country.
Among the defendants are five Voice of America journalists in Washington. The VOA staffers have been charged with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow the government.
Journalist Negussie Mengesha, one of the five charged, and VOA Director David Jackson both rejected the charges, with Mr. Jackson calling them "an obvious attempt to intimidate our reporters."
The defendants in Ethiopian custody include politicians from the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy as well as 14 Ethiopian journalists. The charges are related to anti-government riots in June and November in which more than 80 people were killed.
Opposition groups claim the government rigged national elections in May. Some of the charges filed Wednesday carry a penalty of death.
Statement by VOA Director on Charges Against VOA Journalists
Washington, Dec. 22, 2005 –Voice of America Director David S. Jackson issued the following statement today in response to Ethiopian government charges of treason against five VOA journalists:
“These charges are false and are an obvious attempt to intimidate our broadcasters. The Voice of America has a worldwide reputation for the quality and reliability of our journalism, and we stand by our reporters.”
One of the most popular international broadcasters into Ethiopia, the Voice of America has been broadcasting in Amharic since 1982.
VOA recently added two additional broadcast frequencies for Amharic after learning that its broadcasts into Ethiopia were being jammed.