Ethiopia Sentences U.S. Blogger to Life in Prison

The Federal High Court in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa sentenced expatriate journalist and blogger Elias Kifle to life in prison yesterday. Kifle is the editor of the Washington D.C.-based blog, Ethiopian Review. He was sentenced in absentia and remains in the United States.

It was originally reported that he could receive the death penalty, which is the maximum penalty for his alleged crime of “political terrorism” in the northeast African country.

He and several other defendants were found guilty on January 19th, according to the Ethiopian news website Walta Info, but were not sentenced until Thursday, January 26.

“The charges included conspiring to commit acts of terror, rendering support to terrorism, participating in a terrorist organization (Ginbot 7) and money laundering. Elias is also found guilty of masterminding and providing financial support to the other defendants who remained under police custody since June 2011.”

The other defendants, who were sentenced to 14 years in prison and given fines of 33,000 birrs ($1,500.00), were Reeyot Alemu, a columnist for the weekly newspaper Feteh, and Woubshet Taye, who was deputy editor of Awramba Times, which has since closed up shop.

Kifle’s higher profile, resulting from his U.S. residency, may have saved him from the death penalty. That may not be the case for another blogger, Eskinder Nega, who was arrested in September, also on “terrorism” charges.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, this is Kifle’s second life sentence, following a 2007 decision, also rendered in absentia. The first conviction was on charges of treason and was part of a 2006 crackdown on the press. He was targeted for his publication’s coverage of the Ethiopian government’s violent clampdown on protests that arose after the 2005 elections in the country.

Photo via CPJ | tip via Scott Baldauf

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