February 23, 2010

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

Mr Seyoum Mesfin
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
PO Box 393
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 43 00 

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the prison sentence handed to newspaper editor Ezedin Mohamed.

According to our information, Ezedin Mohamed, publisher and editor of Al-Quds, Ethiopia’s largest Islamic newspaper, was sentenced to one year in prison on January 29, 2010. The exact nature of the charges is not clear but they reportedly relate to a January 2008 column that criticized Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for statements he made during an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian. The Al-Quds column reportedly challenged Zenawi’s characterization of his country as “Orthodox Christian Ethiopia.”
Mohamed was previously arrested on criminal defamation charges in February 2008 along with Al-Quds publisher Maria Kadim and Salafiyya editor Ibrahim Mohamed Ali. The three were held in custody for two weeks before being released on bail. Mohamed has reportedly begun serving his sentence at Kality Prison outside the capital Addis Ababa.

Mohamed is the third newspaper editor to be jailed in Ethiopia in the last six months. On August 24, 2009, Ibrahim Mohamed Ali of Salafiyya and Asrat Wedajo, former editor of the now-defunct Seife Nebelbal, were each sentenced to one year in prison for their coverage of sensitive issues. They were reportedly convicted under now-obsolete press laws for articles published several years ago.
PEN American Center believes that Ezadin Mohamed’s conviction is in violation of his right to freedom of expression as protected under international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is a party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. We therefore call for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all journalists imprisoned in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                        
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee                

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Dr. Samuel Assefa,
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Embassy of Ethiopia
3506 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 274-1861

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