PEN International protests the terrorism charges brought against two Ethiopian journalists and one Swedish reporter on September 6, 2011, which could see them imprisoned for up to 20 years if convicted. Feteh columnist Reeyot Alemu, Awramba Times Deputy Editor Woubshet Taye and Kontinet reporter Martin Schibbye have all been detained since June. Taye has reportedly been tortured while Alemu’s health is deteriorating rapidly; neither has been given access to medical treatment. PEN fears that the three journalists are being targeted for their critical reporting in violation of their right to freedom of expression. It calls on the Ethiopian authorities to drop the charges and release them, and in the meantime ensure that Alemu and Taye are given immediate access to the medical treatment they require.

Background Information

Detained since June 19 and 22, 2011, respectively, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times, and Reeyot Alemu, contributor to the independent weekly newspaper Feteh, appeared before Ethiopia’s High Court on September 6 and were charged under the anti-terrorism law. Their lawyers said they did not have any details about the charges as they were not notified of the hearing and as a result could not attend. Both journalists are being held at Maekelawi Prison in the capital Addis Ababa. Terrorism charges were also filed in absentia against Elias Kifle, editor of the Washington-based anti-government website Ethiopian Review; Kifle lives in exile in the United States.
During a court hearing in August, Taye said that he had been tortured by state officials while he was being interrogated in prison. As of early September, he was reportedly suffering from pain in his ear and stomach as a result of beatings, but had not been given any medical treatment. The same reports suggest that Alemu’s physical and psychological state of health has seriously deteriorated in prison and she is extremely weak. Her relatives have been allowed to visit her and bring her medicines but she has not received any treatment from doctors. Both journalists say they were denied access to a lawyer during their interrogation.

In a separate case, Martin Schibbye (30), reporter for the Sweden-based news agency Kontinet, was also charged with terrorism, as well as violation of migration laws, on September 6, 2011. He was charged along with a photojournalist for the same agency, Johan Persson (29). Their lawyers were reportedly not present at the hearing.
Schibbye and Persson were arrested by Ethiopian security forces on June 30, 2011, while reporting on the activities of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), armed separatists operating in the oil-rich province of Ogaden in eastern Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government claims that the journalists are working with the ONLF, which it designated as a terrorist group in June. According to Reporters Without Borders, they were arrested after illegally entering the Ogaden region from Somalia in the company of members of the ONLF and with the aim of investigating human rights violations by the Ethiopian armed forces in the region. The Ethiopian authorities have reportedly blocked journalists’ access to the region.

Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to "encourage" or "provide moral support" to groups and causes which the government considers to be "terrorist," has been widely criticized as being vaguely worded and catch-all. It carries sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the terrorism charges brought against Awramba Times Deputy Editor Woubshet Taye, Feteh columnist Reeyot Alemu and Kontinet reporter Martin Schibbye on September 6, 2011, which could see them imprisoned for up to 20 years if convicted;
  • Expressing concern that the journalists have been arrested and charged purely in relation to their peaceful journalistic activity, in violation of their 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 Taye has reportedly been tortured and that Alemu’s health is deteriorating rapidly in prison, and yet neither has been given access to medical treatment;
  • Calling on the Ethiopian authorities to allow the journalists access to doctors and lawyers as a matter of urgency;
  • Calling for the journalists’ immediate and unconditional release.

Send Your Letter To

Minister of Justice
Berhanu Hailu
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Fax: +251 11 551 7775/ 7755
Email: [email protected], [email protected]
Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr Seyoum Mesfin
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
PO Box 393
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 551 43 00 
Email: [email protected]
Salutation: Dear Minister

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Ethiopia in your country if possible.

Please send appeals immediately. Contact PEN if sending appeals after October 13, 2011: ftw [at]