PEN Welcomes Leahy Statement on Press Freedom Violations in Ethiopia
New York City, May 17, 2012—Senator Patrick Leahy yesterday made a strong statement in favor of press freedom in Ethiopia, where the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner, Eskinder Nega, is on trial for terrorism, and where controls over the flow of information are becoming increasingly stifling.
Leahy’s statement to the Senate refers to the strategic relationship the United States has been fostering with Ethiopia in order to achieve peace and stability in the country, pointing specifically to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s participation in last month’s G-8 Summit at Camp David.
“But initiatives like this depend for their success on broad national consultation, transparency and accountability,” the statement read. “Consultation to integrate ideas from diverse perspectives, transparency to maintain partner confidence that their investment is reaching its targets, and accountability to ensure it produces the desired results. And transparency and accountability depend, in no small part, on a free press.”
He continued, “In Ethiopia, that means enabling journalists like Eskinder Nega to do their work of reporting and peaceful political participation.”
Eskinder, whose critical reporting over the last two decades has landed him in prison at least seven times, has been on trial under Ethiopia’s sweeping terror legislation since March. A verdict was expected on May 11, but was postponed until June 21, 2012.
PEN American Center awarded Eskinder Nega its 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award at the annual PEN Gala in New York on May 1, 2012. Eskinder’s wife, journalist Serkalem Fasil, accepted the award on his behalf and then traveled to Washington with a PEN delegation to meet with members of Congress and the U.S. Department of State to press his case and urge action on the deteriorating situation for press freedom in Ethiopia. In addition to Senator Leahy, Alaska Senator Mark Begich and California Representative Edward Royce have also issued statements critical of the prosecution of journalists in that country in the wake of those visits.
“Senator Leahy’s statement underscores the importance of Eskinder Nega’s case, and what it says about the direction of Ethiopia,” said Larry Siems, director of the Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. We will all be watching what happens in the courtroom in Addis Ababa next week, and we sincerely hope we will be able to celebrate Eskinder’s acquittal and release.”
Click here to read the full text of Senator Leahy’s statement.
For more information on Eskinder’s case, please visit www.pen.org/eskinder
PEN American Center is the largest of the 144 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit www.pen.org