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Wednesday, 1 March, 2000, 16:47 GMT
Mengistu prosecutors move against press
Col Mengistu
Mengistu is now in exile in Zimbabwe
By Ethiopia correspondent Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa.

The arrest of a prominent journalist in Addis Ababa in connection with former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam's "Red Terror" campaign more than a decade ago has shocked the press community in Addis Ababa.

There was nothing that anyone on his own could do without the instruction or the overseeing of government officials

Lawyer Mengistu Ara-ya
Last week well-respected journalist Mairagu Bezebi was charged with inciting, urging and supporting the killing of 389 people, while he was editor-in-chief of the state owned Addis Zemen newspaper.

The prosecuting team alleges that Mr Mairagu - who is now in his 60s - was a co-offender of five separate acts of killings in Addis Ababa and the nearby town of Debre Zeit.

Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were tortured, murdered or just "disappeared" during Mengistu's reign in the 1970s and 1980s, and the process of rounding up the perpetrators of the crime is a lengthy one.

The special prosecutors office (SPO) has already charged thousands with crimes against humanity.

Editorial link

Although the charges against Mr Mairagu do not state how he supported the killings, many believe it may be linked to editorials he wrote in the state newspaper he worked for.

His lawyer, Mr Mengistu Ara-ya believes that if this is the case, then this is completely unfair as he wrote what he was told to by the Mengistu regime.

"We were in a socialist order, there was nothing that anyone on his own could do without the instruction or the overseeing of government officials, "Mr Megistu said.

Counter revolutionary

And if anyone disobeyed, he added, there was a danger they would be labelled as "counter revolutionaries".

"They could be killed, they could arrested, they could lose their jobs and they would not be able to work anywhere."

Many believe Mr Mairagu's groundbreaking case could pave the way for the arrest of other senior journalists who worked for the state media at the peak of the "Red Terror" campaign.

Mr Mairagu's hearing has been adjourned until April and many will wait in anticipation to learn whether the special prosecutor's office really can link this journalist's writings with the brutal killing of hundreds of people.

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