PEN International protests the continued imprisonment of journalists Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega, held in Kality prison since 2011 under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. PEN believes that the charges against them are politically motivated, and that they have been jailed because of their critical reporting. We call on the Ethiopian authorities to release the journalists immediately and unconditionally. PEN also calls for Reeyot Alemu to be given immediate access to the medical treatment she requires.

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Background Information

Eskinder Nega, journalist for the now-defunct political magazine Change, is serving an 18-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges. He was arrested in September 2011 after publishing a column that questioned the Ethiopian government’s claim that a number of journalists it had detained were suspected terrorists; he also criticized the arrest of the 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. Eskinder was also accused of having links with Ginbot 7, a group regarded as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian authorities. Convicted on June 27, 2012, Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years in prison on July 13, 2012; the prosecutor had asked for a life sentence.

In December 2012, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the Ethiopian government’s continued detention of Eskinder 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. Despite this, Eskinder’s conviction and sentence were upheld by the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court on May 2, 2013. Although one of the charges against Eskinder—“serving as a leader of a terrorist group"—was dropped, his sentence was not reduced.

Eskinder was previously jailed along with his wife, journalist Serkalem Fasil, between 2005 and 2007 on treason charges for their coverage of protests that followed the 2005 legislative elections.

Reeyot Alemu, a contributor to the independent weekly Feteh, is currently serving a five-year sentence, reduced from 14 years on appeal in August 2012 after most of the terrorism charges against her were dropped. Reeyot’s arrest on June 21, 2011, was thought to be related to her articles criticising the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party. Her June 17, 2011 column in Feteh was reportedly critical of the EPRDF’s public fundraising methods for the Abay Dam project, and drew parallels between then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, now deceased, and the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. In January 2012, Reeyot was convicted, alongside journalist Woubshet Taye, of lending support to groups designated "terrorist." 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.

Reeyot has been subjected to ill-treatment in prison, including being denied access to medical treatment and visitors. In early December 2013, it was reported that the prison authorities had refused to allow her to return to the hospital for treatment for a breast tumor; she is in considerable pain and is suffering from bleeding. She was reportedly previously denied access to medical treatment in April 2013, following diagnosis of the breast tumour. Reeyot also suffers from chronic gastritis and sinusitis.

On September 11, 2013, Reeyot undertook a four-day hunger strike in protest against an order by prison authorities to turn in a list of visitors. In response to the hunger strike, prison officials reportedly imposed sanctions preventing her from being visited by anyone except her parents or a priest. Her parents were still the only people allowed visitation rights as of early December 2013. These sanctions run in contravention to the Ethiopian Constitution, Article 21.2 of which states that all convicted prisoners “shall have the opportunity to communicate with, and to be visited by, their spouses or partners, close relatives, friends, religious councilors, medical doctors and their legal counsel.”

In October 2013, it was reported that Media Legal Defence Initiative and Freedom Now had filed an appeal with the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of both Reeyot and Eskinder.

Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is draconian. Actions classified as "terrorist" would often not even be considered crimes outside of Ethiopia. At least three other print journalists are currently held in the country for supposed terrorism.

Reeyot 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. Eskinder was the recipient of the PEN American Center 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in April 2012.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the conviction and continued imprisonment of journalists Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega under Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation;
  • Expressing concern that both 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 United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights;
  • Expressing alarm at reports that Reeyot’s health has deteriorated in prison and that she has been denied access to medical treatment;
  • Calling on the Ethiopian authorities to release both journalists immediately and unconditionally.

Send Your Letter To

Hailemariam Desalegn
Prime Minister
P.O. Box 1031
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 1244
Email via Ministry of Justice: [email protected]
Message via Facebook
Twitter: @HailemariamD

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

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after January 18, 2014***

Send messages of Solidarity to Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega:

Kality Prison,
Near Addis Ababa

Please send general greetings or tourist cards with non-political and non-religious messages of solidarity.