September 28, 2011

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 155 20 30

Berhanu Hailu

Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 7775/ 7755

Gebeyehu Workineh
Federal Police Commissioner
P.O. Box 5718
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 551 12 13

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 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 detention of journalists Sileshi Hagos and Eskinder Nega.

According to our information, Sileshi Hagos and Eskinder Nega were arrested on September 9 and 14, 2011, respectively. They were accused of involvement with the banned political party Ginbot 7, and were arrested under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorist law, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes which the government considers to be “terrorist,” and has been widely criticized as vaguely worded and catch-all. Hagos and Nega appeared before a court on September 15, and will reportedly remain in custody until October 12 to allow for police to carry out their investigations. Their arrest follows that of four other journalists who have been detained under terrorism charges since June of this year. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Eskinder Nega, a journalist and blogger, was apparently arrested for his column criticizing the government’s arrest of the famed Ethiopian actor Debebe Eshetu on terrorism charges. Nega and his wife Fasil were previously imprisoned for 17 months on anti-state charges for their coverage of brutal government repression of peaceful protests following the disputed 2005 elections. They were released in April 2007, but the state has barred them from starting new newspapers. There are concerns that Nega has been ill-treated in detention.

Sileshi Hagos is a contributor to the Addis Ababa-based radio station 96.3 FM and is the former managing director of the now defunct political monthly magazine Change, which used to cover Ginbot 7 before it was designated a terrorist organization by the government. He is the fiancé of journalist Reeyot Alemu, who has also been imprisoned under terrorism charges since July. Authorities interrogated Hagos and seized his laptop after Alemu’s arrest.

PEN American Center believes that Sileshi Hagos and Eskinder Nega have been arrested solely in relation to the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Ethiopia is a signatory. We therefore call for the immediate and unconditional release of Sileshi Hagos and Eskinder Nega, as well as all other journalists currently detained under the anti-terrorism law.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Mr. Tesfaye Yilma
Chargé d’Affaires
Embassy of Ethiopia to the United States
3506 International Drive NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 587-0195

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