RAN 34/11 28 June 2011
The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC) protests the incommunicado detention of Awramba Times deputy editor Woubshet Taye and Feteh columnist Reeyot Alemu, who were arrested on 19 and 21 June 2011 respectively. Neither has been charged to date but it is thought that both were arrested under Ethiopia’s sweeping 2009 antiterrorism law, which allows for prison sentences of up to 20 years. The WiPC fears that the journalists are being targeted for their critical reporting in violation of their right to freedom of expression. It calls on the Ethiopian authorities to clarify the reason for their arrest and to release them immediately.
On 19 June 2011, security agents reportedly arrested Woubshet Taye (pictured, left), deputy editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times, at his home in the capital Addis Ababa and confiscated various documents, cameras, CDs and copies of the newspaper. Two days later, on 21 June, Reeyot Alemu (pictured below, left), a regular contributor to the independent weekly newspaper Feteh, was reportedly detained at a secondary school where she teaches English in the capital Addis Ababa; her home was also searched by police. Both are being detained incommunicado without charge at the federal investigation centre at Maekelawi Prison in Addis Ababa.
The authorities are yet to disclose the reason for either arrest. However, it is suspected that both journalists have been detained under Ethiopia’s 2009 antiterrorism law.
According to local journalists, Alemu’s arrest could be related to her articles criticising the ruling EPRDF party. Her 17 June column in Feteh was reportedly critical of the EPRDF’s public fundraising methods for the Abay Dam project, and drew parallels between Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
In Taye’s case, it has been suggested that his arrest may be linked to his alleged sympathy for the banned political party Ginbot 7, which the Ethiopian government recently designated as a terrorist organisation. Awramba Times provides in-depth political coverage.
Ethiopia’s press law prohibits pre-trial detention of journalists and under the Ethiopian constitution all citizens detained must be charged or released within 48 hours. The country’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.
Report on Alemu’s arrest by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (23 June 2011): http://www.cpj.org/2011/06/ethiopian-journalist-likely-held-under-anti-terror.php
•Report on Taye’s arrest by CPJ (21 June 2011): http://www.cpj.org/2011/06/ethiopian-journalist-illegally-detained-since-sund.php
•CPJ blog entry on Ethiopia’s antiterrorism law (24 June 2011): http://www.cpj.org/blog/2011/06/in-ethiopia-anti-terrorism-law-chills-reporting-on.php