London, 6 May 2014 – PEN International, ARTICLE 19, Civicus and Freedom Now shined a spotlight on the unprecedented crackdown on freedom of expression in Ethiopia. Recent weeks saw renewed arrests of journalists and bloggers, and the expulsion of representatives of civil society activists from the country. This crackdown took place in the run-up to its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations in Geneva, which took place today, 6 May 2014.
The UPR is the process by which all UN Member States are assessed on a rolling basis every four and a half years by the Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
‘It is disappointing that few of the recommendations on freedom of expressions – including those accepted by Ethiopia – have been implemented in the intervening four years,’ said Ann Harrison, Director of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
‘Freedom of the press remains severely restricted and a new wave of writers, including independent bloggers is taking place. Anyone held for peacefully expressing themselves should be released immediately and unconditionally.’
PEN International, took the opportunity of the 19th session of the Universal Periodic Review to host a side-event in collaboration with ARTICLE 19, Civicus, and Freedom Now. At the event, exiled Ethiopian writers Girma Fantaye and Hika Fedeke Dugassa spoke about their experiences in a panel moderated by PEN International’s Sarah Clarke. Fantaye and Fedeke Dugassa are both currently on placements offered by PEN’s partner organisation, the International Cities of Refuge Network. Also speaking at the side-event were Patrick Mutahi, from Article 19’s East Africa office, who was recently expelled from Ethiopia where he was due to conduct civil society training ahead of the UPR, and Maran Turner, the Executive Director of Freedom Now.
In September 2013, PEN International, along with the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Freedom Now submitted a shadow report to the UNHRC detailing violations by the Government of Ethiopia on free speech with recommendations to the authorities.
The recommendations in the shadow report included: release journalists and activists imprisoned or detained for reasons connected to their exercise of free speech and association; repeal legislation which restricts free speech; end restrictions on international broadcasters and blocking of international websites; permit freedom of movement for independent journalists, end the blocking, filtering, and monitoring of internet and mobile phone usage, which severely limit digital freedom and the right to free expression and permit UN human rights mechanisms to visit the country.
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