New York City, May 17, 2012—PEN American Center has sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the administration to challenge Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on his treatment of journalists when Meles appears at this weekend’s G-8 Summit at Camp David. Meles, who has ruled Ethiopia for the past 20 years, has been ramping up the use of state security legislation to crack down on media freedom and journalists, including Eskinder Nega, who is currently on trial on bogus terrorism charges and could face the death penalty if convicted.

An excerpt from the letter follows:

We are confident that your administration shares our grave concerns over the lack of progress in human rights and democratization in Ethiopia in general, and about the extremely troubling use of anti-terrorism and regional security as a pretext to violate the core freedoms of Ethiopia’s citizens. We likewise share your administration’s interest in Ethiopia’s short-term needs and long-term, sustainable economic development. But we fear that inviting Prime Minister Meles to attend the G-8 summit at the very moment that Eskinder Nega, one of his country’s most principled, credible, and courageous independent voices, is standing trial may be misperceived as a willingness on the part of the United States to overlook the prime minister’s increasingly authoritarian bent.

The prosecution of Eskinder Nega on trumped-up terrorism charges is more than a flagrant violation of an impressive journalist’s most fundamental rights. It is a deeply disturbing indication of the direction Prime Minister Meles is leading Ethiopia—a direction that is surely incompatible both with U.S. interest and the goals the G-8 shares with the people of Ethiopia and its neighbors. We therefore entreat you, as you prepare for the Camp David meetings, to speak out both publicly and privately on behalf of Eskinder Nega, and to raise his case directly with Prime Minister Meles in the event Eskinder is convicted. 

Eskinder Nega is the recipient of this year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. His wife Serkalem Fasil accepted the award on his behalf in a moving ceremony in New York on May 1, 2012.

Read the full text of PEN’s letter here.

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.

Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334-1660 ext. 111