International PEN protests the one-year prison sentence handed to newspaper editors Ibrahim Mohamed Ali and Asrat Wedajo on August 24, 2009 for their coverage of sensitive issues. They were reportedly convicted on under now-obsolete press laws for articles published several years ago. PEN believes that their conviction and imprisonment is in direct violation of their right to freedom of expression and opinion and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

Background Information

Ibrahim Mohamed Ali, editor of the weekly Muslim-oriented newspaper Salafiyya, and Asrat Wedajo, former editor of the now-defunct Seife Nebelbal, were each sentenced to one year in prison on August 24, 2009. They were immediately taken to Kality Prison outside the capital Addis Ababa to begin serving their sentences.

The two journalists were reportedly convicted on several charges under Ethiopia’s criminal code and its now-obsolete Press Proclamation of 1992. The latter was reformed as the Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation, which officially took effect in December 2008.

The charges against Wedajo stemmed from a 2004 article containing allegations of human rights violations against the Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. Mohamed Ali was charged in connection with a 2007 piece, written by a guest columnist, which was critical of the Ethiopian Ministry of Education’s plans to restrict the use of headscarves by female Muslim students at public education institutions.

Mohamed Ali has previously been imprisoned for publishing similar stories: in 2008 he, along with Maria Kadim and Ezedin Mohamed, publisher and editor of the newspaper Al-Quds, were jailed for almost two weeks in February 2008 for reprinting articles from the web site that criticized the Ministry’s proposal to restrict religious practices in public schools. On that occasion, Kadim was acquitted but Mohamed Ali was fined 10,000 birrs (US$800). He reportedly faces further charges relating to coverage of religious matters.

Mohamed Ali plans to appeal the one-year prison sentence. Wedajo reportedly cannot afford a lawyer but may be able to lodge an appeal regardless.

The newspaper for which Wedajo worked, Seife Nebelbal, has been banned since the Ethiopian government’s crackdown on the media in 2005.

Despite promises of reform, the Ethiopian government makes a habit of reviving criminal cases against journalists dating back years as a mean of silencing criticism. At least eight other editors of Amharic-language newspapers are reportedly now facing actual or possible criminal charges for their reporting on political and public affairs.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the one-year prison sentence handed to editors Ibrahim Mohamed Ali and Asrat Wedajo on August 24, 2009 for their coverage of sensitive issues;
  • Calling for Mohamed Ali and Wedajo’s immediate and unconditional release.

Send Your Letter To

Berhanu Hailu
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 7775
Salutation: Dear Minister

Mr. Seyoum Mesfin
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
PO Box 393
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 551 43 00
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative of Ethiopia in your country if possible.

Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after November 3, 2009: ftw[at]