Home Page > News Item > ETHIOPIA: Three print journalists charged with terrorism; concerns for wellbeing

14 September 2011
Update #1 to RAN 34/11

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) protests the terrorism charges brought against two Ethiopian journalists and one Swedish reporter on 6 September 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. The WiPC 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.

ETHIOPIA – From left, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye. (Feteh, Awramba Times, Kontinent)

From left: Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye (Feteh, Awramba Times, Kontinent)

Detained since 19 and 22 June 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 6 September and were charged under the antiterrorism 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 USA.

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. For more details on their arrest, see previous alert.

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 6 September 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 30 June 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.

Background

Ethiopia’s antiterrorism 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 criticised as being vaguely worded and catch-all. It carries sentences of up to 20 years in prison.

Useful links

Terrorism charges brought against the three print journalists:

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (7 September 2011): http://www.cpj.org/2011/09/in-ethiopia-terrorism-charges-against-five-journal.php
Reporters Without Borders (8 September 2011): http://en.rsf.org/ethiopie-two-swedish-and-three-ethiopian-08-09-2011,40944.html

Treatment in prison/ health status of Taye and Alemu:

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (1 September 2011): http://www.cpj.org/2011/09/cpj-concerned-about-detained-ethiopian-journalists.php

Please send appeals:

Protesting the terrorism charges brought against Awramba Times deputy editor Woubshet Taye, Feteh columnist Reeyot Alemu and Kontinet reporter Martin Schibbye on 6 September 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 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 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.

Appeals 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

Please also send a copy of your letter to your nearest Ethiopian diplomatic representative (the contact details for some Ethiopian embassies are listed here: http://www.embassyworld.com/embassy/Ethiopia/Ethiopia1.html).

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 13 September 2011.***

For further details please contact Tamsin Mitchell at the Writers in Prison Committee London Office: PEN International, Brownlow House, 50-51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339 email: tamsin.mitchell@pen-international.org