PEN International protests in the strongest possible terms the Ethiopian Supreme Court’s May 2, 2013 decision to uphold Eskinder Nega’s conviction on highly dubious terrorism-related charges and his 18-year prison sentence. It also protests the continuing imprisonment of four other journalists under Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation: Woubshet Taye and Reeyot Alemu, who are serving long sentences following their conviction in 2012; Yusuf Getachew who is detained pending trial; and Solomon Kebede, held without charge since January 2013. PEN believes that these journalists have been jailed because of their critical reporting and calls on the Ethiopian authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally.

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Background Information

On May 2, 2013, the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence of Eskinder Nega, journalist for now-defunct political magazine Change. One of the charges against Eskinder, “serving as a leader of a terrorist group,” was dropped, but his sentence was not reduced.

Eskinder was arrested in September 2011 after publishing a column that questioned the government’s claim that a number of journalists it had detained were suspected terrorists; he also criticized the arrest of well-known Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu. During his trial, the judge reportedly accused Eskinder of using "the guise of freedom" to "attempt to incite violence and overthrow the constitutional order." According to news reports, the judge claimed that Eskinder wanted to spark a popular revolt in the style of the Arab Spring. He was also accused of having links with Ginbot 7, a group regarded as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian authorities.

An opinion handed down by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in December 2012, but only publicised in April 2013, found that the Ethiopian government’s continued detention of Eskinder Nega constituted a violation of his right to free expression and due process under international law. The UN panel of five independent experts concluded that Eskinder’s imprisonment came “as a result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression” and called for his immediate release.

Meanwhile, at least four other journalists remain imprisoned under Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the now-defunct Awramba Times, and Reeyot Alemu, a contributor to the independent weekly Feteh, have been detained since June 2011. It is widely believed by press freedom groups that both journalists were targeted for their coverage of banned opposition groups.

In January 2012, Woubshet and Reeyot were convicted of lending support to groups designated "terrorist" and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Reeyot’s sentence was reduced to five years on appeal in August 2012 and most of the terrorism charges against her were dropped. However her final appeal, which sought her acquittal of the remaining charge of participating in the promotion or communication of a terrorist act, was rejected in January 2013.

Both Woubshet and Reeyot have been subjected to ill-treatment in prison. Woubshet was reportedly tortured after his arrest and the health of both journalists has deteriorated in jail. In April 2013 it was reported that Reeyot had been denied access to medical treatment after she was diagnosed with a tumor in her breast. She had also been threatened with solitary confinement for two months as a punishment for alleged bad behavior toward the prison authorities and for threatening to publicize human rights violations by prison guards. The same month, Woubshet was reportedly transfered to a detention facility in Ziway, an isolated village about 83 miles southeast of the capital. The move means that his wife and son will have to travel more than four hours in order to visit him.

Yusuf Getachew and Solomon Kebede, editor and managing editor of the now-defunct weekly newspaper Ye Muslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs) are also both detained under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Arrested on July 20, 2012, Yusuf was charged on October 29, 2012, with plotting acts of “terrorism, intending to advance a political, religious or ideological cause” by force; and the “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt of terrorist acts.” Solomon was arrested in Addis Ababa on January 17, 2013, and is being held without charge.

Yusuf’s trial is part of a wider trial of nine Muslim leaders and at least 20 others arrested and charged under the anti-terrorism law in July 2012 following six months of public protests by Ethiopian Muslims over alleged government interference in religious affairs. Ye Muslimoch Guday provided extensive coverage of the protests and it is believed that this is why Yusuf was arrested and charged. Many other journalists attempting to report on the protests were reportedly detained or intimidated. Other Ye Muslimoch Guday journalists have gone into hiding, and the publication ceased operations following Yusuf’s arrest. Despite these arrests, weekly protests have continued throughout the country. According to Human Rights Watch, the trial has been marred by serious due process violations, including undermining the defendants’ presumption of innocence. The trial, which is closed to the public, is ongoing.

Similarly, Solomon’s arrest is thought to be linked to his columns criticizing perceived government intrusion in religious affairs; he had also covered Muslim demonstrations in 2012. The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation permits pre-trial detention for up to four months without charge, meaning that the Ethiopian authorities should either charge Solomon in the next few days or release him. As of April 2013 he reportedly still had no access to a lawyer.

Both Yusuf and Solomon are being held in the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center in Addis Ababa, which is notorious for torture. Yusuf told the court in October 2012 that he had been beaten in custody, a complaint that has not been adequately investigated. Solomon’s health is said to be poor.

Ethiopia’s anti-terror legislation is draconian. Actions classified as "terrorist" would often not even be considered crimes outside of Ethiopia. Since November 2011, at least 11 journalists have been convicted and sentenced with terrorism, according to Human Rights Watch.

Eskinder Nega was the recipient of the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. An open letter said to be from Eskinder writing from Kality Prison can be read here

Reeyot Alemu was awarded the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2012 and the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in May 2013.

Woubshet Taye received a Hellman-Hammett Award from Human Rights Watch in 2012.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court’s decision to uphold journalist Eskinder Nega’s conviction on dubious terrorism-related charges and his 18-year prison sentence;
  • Also protesting the continuing imprisonment of four other journalists under Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation: Woubshet Taye and Reeyot Alemu, who are serving long sentences following their conviction in 2012; Yusuf Getachew who is detained pending trial; and Solomon Kebede, held without charge since January 2013;
  • Expressing concern that all five journalists appear to have been imprisoned purely in relation to their peaceful journalistic activity, in violation of the right to freedom of expression 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.
  • Expressing alarm at reports that Reeyot Alemu has been denied medical treatment, that Solomon Kebede does not have access to a lawyer, and that allegations that Woubshet Taye was tortured and Yusuf Getachew was beaten while in custody have not been properly investigated;
  • Calling on the Ethiopian authorities to release the five journalists immediately and unconditionally.

Send Your Letter To

Minister of Justice
Berhanu Hailu
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 551 7775/ 7755
Email: justice@telecom.net.et, ministry-justice@telecom.net.et
Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
PO Box 393
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 551 43 00
Email: mfa.addis@telecom.net.et
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please also send a copy of your letter to your nearest Ethiopian diplomatic representative.

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after July 13, 2013***