September 14, 2011

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

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Seyoum Mesfin
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
P.O. Box 393
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 43 00

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 terrorism charges brought against journalists Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, and Martin Schibbye, all of whom face up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted.

According to our information, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times, and Reeyot Alemu, contributor to the independent weekly newspaper Feteh, were detained on June 19 and 22, 2011, respectively, and appeared before Ethiopia’s High Court on September 6, 2011, where they were charged under the antiterrorism law. Their lawyers were not notified of the hearing and could not attend. Taye and Alemu are currently being held at Maekelawi Prison in Addis Ababa. Terrorism charges were also filed in absentia against Elias Kifle, editor of the Washington-based anti-government web site Ethiopian Review. Kifle lives in exile in the United States.

We understand that both Taye and Alemu were denied access to a lawyer during their interrogations, and that during his court hearing in August, Taye said that he had been tortured by state officials during interrogations in prison. As of early September, he was reportedly suffering from pain in his ear and stomach as a result of beatings, but has not been allowed medical treatment. Reports also indicate that Alemu’s physical and psychological health have seriously deteriorated in prison. She is very weak and although her relatives have been allowed to bring her medicine, she has not received any treatment from medical professionals.

Martin Schibbye, reporter for the Sweden-based news agency Kontinet, was arrested along with Kontinet photojournalist Johan Persson on June 30, 2011, while reporting on the activities of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). On September 6, 2011, they were charged with terrorism and violation of migration laws, based on the government claim that the journalists were working with the ONLF, which was designated a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government in June.

PEN American Center believes that Woubshet Taye, Reeyot Alemu, and Martin Schibbye, have been arrested and charged 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 their immediate and unconditional release.

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

>> Back to Rapid Action