International Journalists, Writers, Rights Activists Protest Terrorism Charge Against Ethiopian Journalist
Dec. 23, 2011 – A broad international group of journalists, writers and human rights activists today called for the Ethiopian government to unconditionally release journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, imprisoned since Sept. 14 on terrorism charges that carry a maximum sentence of death.
The petition’s signatories include Mark Hamrick, president of the 3,500-member National Press Club based in Washington, D.C.; Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Foundations; Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch and William Easterly, a New York University economics professor and author of the bestselling book “The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Harm and So Little Good.”
In an open letter to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Minister of Government Communication Affairs Bereket Simon and Justice Minister Berhan Hailu, the petitioners expressed concern about reports that Eskinder is at risk of abuse in prison and called for the government to end its use of terrorism laws to silence the press.
“We urge the Ethiopian government to unconditionally release Eskinder and other journalists unjustly detained; to ensure that he and others are treated humanely; to halt the use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute journalists; and to fully defend the rights of the press outlined by Ethiopia’s constitution and international agreements,” the petition says.
About Eskinder Nega
Eskinder Nega is a prominent Ethiopian journalist arrested in September of 2011 under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009. Just prior to his arrest, Eskinder had published an online column critical of the use of the terrorism law to silence dissent and calling for the Ethiopian government to respect freedom of expression and end torture in the country’s prisons. Eskinder is a journalist and dissident blogger who espouses non-violence. He now faces charges with a maximum penalty of death.
Previous to his current arrest, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem Fasil, both newspaper publishers, spent 17 months in jail after being charged with treason following Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 elections, along with dozens of journalists, human rights activists and opposition leaders. While in custody, Serkalem gave birth to their first child. Even after they were acquitted by Ethiopia’s Federal High Court, Eskinder and Serkalem were blocked from reopening their newspapers and the government continued to pursue civil charges against them.
Eskinder was detained earlier this year, after he published an online column asking members of the security services not to shoot unarmed demonstrators – as they did in 2005 – in the event the ‘Arab spring’ should spread to Ethiopia.
The letter’s signatories also include Marshall Ingwerson; managing editor of the Christian Science Monitor; Maziar Bahari, the Newsweek journalist jailed by the Iranian government for 118 days in 2009; former Ethiopia-based BBC correspondents Elizabeth Blunt, Nita Bhalla and Alice Martin; Anya Schiffrin, director of the media and communications program at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs; John Ryle, professor of anthropology at Bard College; Helen Epstein, author of “The Invisible Cure, Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa” and The New York Review’s “Cruel Ethiopia,”; Lonnie Isabel, director of the international reporting program at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism; Ben Rawlence, senior researcher in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch and a co-author of “Development Without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia,”; Tom Rhodes, East Africa consultant for the Committee to Protect Journalists and former Bloomberg News correspondent in Ethiopia Jason McLure.
Previously, a number of press freedom and human rights groups, including PEN/International, Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International and the International Federation of Journalists have called for Eskinder’s release.
Additional information about Eskinder’s case can be obtained online at www.FreeEskinderNega.com*.
New York Review of Books letter
A separate letter about Eskinder’s case, published in the new issue of the New York Review of Books dated January 12 and signed by Mark Hamrick, president of the National Press Club; Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Foundation; Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch; and William Easterly, professor of economics at New York University, notes that Ethiopia tops Iran and Cuba to lead the world in the number of journalists who have fled into exile over the past decade and calls for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s Western allies to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent and to take steps to ensure that aid money does not foster political repression. The New York Review is America’s leading biweekly book review and journal of intellectual events.
Committee to Free Eskinder Nega media contact: Jason McLure +1 202 370 6905 or FreeEskinderNega@gmail.com
*Website is blocked in Ethiopia. To view from Ethiopia, please utilize a proxy server or contact FreeEskinderNega@gmail.com