RAN 52/11: ETHIOPIA

RAN 52/11
June 2012

ETHIOPIA: Journalist Eskinder Nega and five others convicted on terror charges.

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International condemns the conviction on terrorism-related charges of the Ethiopian journalist and blogger, Eskinder Nega. We also strongly protest the convictions of five other journalists, currently in exile and tried in absentia. On June 27, 2012, an Ethiopian court found all of the journalists guilty of violating Ethiopia’s controversial anti-terrorism legislation. Sentencing is expected on July 13, 2012. The prosecutor has requested life sentences for all of those convicted. All of the men maintain their innocence.

Nega was the recipient of the PEN American Center 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in April 2012. He 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. For further information on Nega, please see here.

The other journalists, who are being tried in absentia, are Mesfin Negash and Abiye Teklemariam of the U.S.-based Addis Neger Online, Abebe Gellaw of the U.S.-based Addis Voice; Abebe Belew of the U.S.-based Internet radio Addis Dimts; and Fasil Yenealem of the Netherlands-based ESAT.

According to news reports, the judge accused all of the journalists of using "the guise of freedom" to "attempt to incite violence and overthrow the constitutional order." It is reported that he specifically accused Nega of wanting to spark a popular revolt in the style of the Arab Spring. All of the journalists were accused of having links with Ginbot 7, a group designated a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian authorities.

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 charged with terrorism.

PEN American Center President Peter Godwin issued the following statement in response to the conviction:

“We are dismayed at the conviction of Eskinder Nega. The evidence presented in court shows that this courageous journalist spoke and wrote only of peaceful change in Ethiopia; not of terrorism, nor of violent overthrow of the government, as Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has tried to insist.

“That Eskinder was put on trial at all for his writing, shows a shameful disdain for Ethiopia’s obligations to its citizens and to international law, and further proof of its alarming descent into an authoritarian state. This guilty verdict is an affront to journalists everywhere who exercise their internationally-protected right to freedom of expression.

“We at PEN urge the world to stand with Eskinder Nega, with the journalists struggling inside Ethiopia, and with the 150 journalists who have now fled Ethiopia into exile. Our pledge to Eskinder is this: we will keep campaigning for your release until you walk free.”

Please send appeals:

Protesting the conviction on terrorism-related charges of Eskinder Nega, Mesfin Negash, Abiye Teklemariam, Abebe Gellaw, Abebe Belew, Addis Dimts and and Fasil Yenealem;

Expressing concern that the journalists have been tried and convicted 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.

This petition is addressed 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 Seyoum Mesfin
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

Ethiopian diplomatic representatives and the contact details for some Ethiopian embassies are listed here: http://www.embassyworld.com/embassy/Ethiopia/Ethiopia1.html.

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