A Call for an End to the Persecution of Journalists in Ethiopia
By: Naomi Hunt, Press Freedom Adviser for Africa & the Middle East
VIENNA, Apr. 23, 2012 – Twenty international journalists who have been recognised as World Press Freedom Heroes by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) have condemned the Ethiopian government’s decision to jail Eskinder Nega and other journalists on terrorism charges, and called for their immediate release.
Eskinder Nega, an online writer and critic of the current Ethiopian government, was arrested in September 2011 and is accused of supporting terrorism, for which he could face the death penalty if convicted. He was jailed shortly after having criticized the government’s use of anti-terrorism laws to jail other journalists and opposition figures. This is hardly Eskinder’s first brush with the authorites – he and his wife, also a journalist, were jailed for 17 months on treason charges in the aftermath of the disputed 2005 elections. Their son was born in prison. Since then, Eskinder has been banned from journalism but has continued to speak out and write.
Ethiopia, which is set to host the World Economic Forum on Africa in May 2012, jailed Eskinder and four other journalists on anti-terrorism charges over the past year. Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the now-defunct Awramba Times, and Reyot Alemu of Feteh newspaper were convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison this January. In December, Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johann Persson were sentenced to 11 years in prison for aiding terrorists. They had been arrested last year in the company of rebels in the Ogaden region.
Last month, IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to speak out against Ethiopia’s use of anti-terror laws to jail journalists, which IPI said “makes a mockery of the universal right to ‘hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’”
IPI noted that this practice also undermines “the fight against real terrorists, who use violence – and not words – to achieve their ends”.Each of the men and women who signed this petition has been honoured for their contributions to freedom of the press in their home countries and around the world. Many have themselves been jailed for their work – indeed Turkish author and investigative reporter Nedim Şener’s battle against terrorism charges, believed by observers to be designed to silence him as a journalist, is not over yet. Read their call for Ethiopia’s journalists to be freed, below:
H.E. Meles Zenawi
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Via Fax: 2511-55-20-20
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to express our extremely strong condemnation of the Ethiopian government’s decision to jail journalist Eskinder Nega on terrorism charges on Sep. 14, 2011. We believe the government’s decision to arrest him violates the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press guaranteed by the Ethiopian constitution, the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The imprisonment of Eskinder Nega and other journalists represents the criminalisation of investigation and criticism, which should be part and parcel of any democratic society.
We are particularly concerned by reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that Eskinder may be subject to torture during his imprisonment.
We call on the Ethiopian government to unconditionally release Eskinder and other journalists unjustly detained; to ensure that he and others are treated humanely; to halt the use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute journalists; and to fully defend the rights of the press outlined by Ethiopia’s constitution and international agreements.
Please note that we are sending this statement to the authorities of the African Union – including the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Jean Ping, and the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Catherine Dupe Atoki. We wish to draw their attention to the fact that the conduct of the Ethiopian Government is in conflict with the protocols of the African Union, the African Union Charter, and the guarantees of freedom of expression protected under various international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, we find that the conduct of the Ethiopian government also brings the African Union into disrepute because its headquarters are in Addis Ababa.
See the list and profile of the singers here