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Judiciary, Press Freedom in Ethiopia Questioned over Singer's Trial
Judiciary, Press Freedom in Ethiopia Questioned over Singer's Trial

06 August 2008
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[insert caption here]
Singer Teddy Afro is behind bars
In Ethiopia, the trial of a controversial pop star is raising questions about the independence of the judiciary and of the press. The government has arrested a journalist covering the court hearings and a defense attorney. Both men are expected to appear in court today (Wednesday).

Ethiopia’s rising pop and reggae singer Teddy Afro has been in jail since April. He was charged with a hit and run road accident and remains in jail after being denied bail. Teddy has pleaded non-guilty, and his attorney argues that prosecutors have not presented enough evidence to detain his client.

But as of Monday, the defense attorney, as well as a journalist covering the trial joined the pop singer behind bars.

Mesfin Negash, the editor of a weekly newspaper in the Ethiopian capital could be sentenced to up to six months in prison, if found guilty of contempt of court. Facing the same charges and also in police custody is Teddy Afro’s defense attorney Million Assefa, who was quoted in an article published by the paper.

The judge overseeing the case said the interview constituted interference in the due process of law. He issued a subpoena for their arrest.

One of the editors of the newspaper Dagninet Mekonnen says his paper has done no wrong.

“We have absolute right to publish this material. The content of the interview with Teddy Afro’s lawyer Ato Million Assefa was that he (the attorney) wants to sue the judge for not complying with the right procedures. We have nothing to do with condemning the due process of law at hand.”

New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, the CPJ and Reporters Without Borders criticized the arrest of the journalist in separate statements. CPJ Africa Program research associate Mohamed Keita calls it a systematic way to detain journalists covering sensitive issues.

“It is rather unfortunate that a journalist be detained for essentially interviewing the lawyer of Teddy Afro and essentially doing his job.”

Journalists who were in court yesterday to report the incitement of the attorney and the journalist, said a US Embassy representative was present in the hearing.

Teddy Afro’s high-profile trial has grabbed the attention of many of his fans. Thousands of his followers rally in front of the courthouse whenever he appears in court. Within minutes, the police reportedly break up their demonstrations.

Government-controlled radio stations in Ethiopia have banned songs from Teddy Afro’s third album “yasteseryal”. “yasteseryal” makes an implicit mockery of what it sees as failure of political movements in the country since a socialist military junta overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974.

This tune was particularly popular during Ethiopia’s parliamentary election in 2005. And many say the ban shows the singer is indeed controversial and that his trial is a political gimmick.

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