Feleke Tibebu, deputy editor of private Ethiopian newspaper Hadar
was arrested in a 2005 government-led crackdown on dissidents and the private
media. Tibebu (right) and 13 other journalists were charged with "outrages against
the constitution or constitutional order," "impairment of the
defensive power of the state," and "attempted genocide," after
the publication of editorials
critical of the government's conduct
surrounding the May 2005 parliamentary
elections. According to international news reports at the time, more than 190
people were killed when the government crushed post-election protests after the
opposition contested the victory of the ruling party.
nearly 17 months in prison, Tibebu and seven other journalists
were acquitted and released in April 2007. Facing more harassment, he fled
later that year where he waited for more than a year for approval of his
resettlement petition and visa to travel to the U.S.
On August 16, Tibebu arrived in Virginia,
where he has extended family.
He is one of more than 340 journalists forced into
in exile whose cases CPJ has documented since 2001.
Tibebu was interviewed in Amharic last week by Voice of America
Amharic service reporter Henok Fente, who is based in Washington:
Henok Fente: What
are your feelings, observations, and impressions upon arriving in the U.S.?
Feleke Tibebu: I
have mixed feelings about coming to America. I am sad because I was
forced to flee my country, and it is not easy for someone to leave family,
friends, and one's career to build a new one in new country. I was forced by
the Ethiopian government to flee. However, I am glad to be in America. I am
glad I am not in prison or in a refugee camp. I am alive, and that is what
HF: When is the
last time you were in Ethiopia
and what drove you out?
FT: I was in Ethiopia
until the 2005 elections. I covered the election and the dispute in the
aftermath. The government accused me, along with other colleagues, of genocide
and crimes against humanity. What we did was report extrajudicial killings by
government security forces and that is why we were sent to prison. I was
acquitted by the high court and was released. But government security forces
kept harassing me and my family. Eventually, I decided to flee to Kenya.
HF: What were
some of the conditions you faced in prison?
FT: I was in jail
for 17 months. The conditions were terrible. I was in the Meakelawi
interrogation center for two months. A colleague and myself were locked in a
dark room. Then we were transferred to a Kaliti correction facility. There were
430 inmates in one room. The cell had four latrines, two showers. It was hot
CPJ gave me hope and support. I knew organizations like CPJ
were fighting for our rights when they visited us. When the authorities heard
that CPJ and others were coming, they built a new cell and they moved us there.
That cut the suffering by half. CPJ also helped my family--giving cash--and
helped me in Kenya,
where I was a refugee. This encourages journalists. It helps the cause of free
press in Ethiopia.
HF: What would
have to change in Ethiopia
for you to consider returning?
should have the right to fully and freely express their thoughts and opinions.
People should be free to write, say, or use whatever means they want to express
themselves. Such rights have to be exercised fully--there is no middle ground
here--it has to be fully free. Electoral processes and other institutions have
to function independently. Unfortunately that is not the case in Ethiopia. The
role of the free press has been significantly undermined by arrests and abuses
and now [the government has] come up with a new press law that is even more
suppressive. Honestly, the situation in Ethiopia is gloomy.