ADDIS ABABA, July 22, 2011 Ethiopian Federal court on Thursday granted bail for two local journalists after 15 months in jail since police took them into custody on charges of misusing state property.
Police last year announced that the two journalists, Haileyesus Worku and AbdulSemed Mohamed, were captured red-handed smuggling property belonging to the Ethiopian Radio and Television (ERTA) for what they said was to sell national television programmes to international TV stations.
Editor Haileyesus Worku and reporter Abdulsemed Mohammed of ERTA have been working for state-owned media for more than ten years.
Source close to Ezega.com said that First Bench of the Federal Court at Lideta branch ordered the release of the detained journalist with 5000 Birr bails as of Friday, 22 July 2011.
According to sources, the two journalists are already found guilty but they are allowed to defend themselves from outside. However courts passed a decision that the defendants are banned from leaving the country until the next court’s final verdict.
The arrest of the two journalists has managed the attention of several right groups globally. Both Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporter without Borders repeatedly urged the Ethiopian government for the release of the two journalists.
Right groups and media watch dogs accuse the government for repression of media and freedom of speech by imprisoning a number of journalists under politically motivated criminal charges.
The Ethiopian government on its part has been saying “It is not a press freedom issue, but a criminal issue”.
Last month Ethiopian police has also declared the arrest of two local journalists named Wubshet Taye, Deputy Editor in Chief of weekly Awramba Times, and Re’yot Alemu a columnist to a weekly paper of Fitih. The two are still behind bars accused of terrorism plotting.
Similarly Ethiopian anti-terrorism force also arrested two Swedish journalists who were captured entering to Ethiopian territory illegally with local rebellion group, the Ogaden National Front (ONLF), in which the later group is listed as a terrorist organization by Ethiopian parliament in June this year.
Watchdogs claim that these arrests are part of the country’s spurious criminal charges targeting journalists.