Home Page > News Item > ETHIOPIA – Two Journalists Given 14 Years in Prison; One Sentenced to Life Imprisonment

Update# 2 to RAN 34/11 27 January 2012

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International is outraged at the draconian sentences handed down to Ethiopian journalists Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye and Elias Kifle. Alemu and Taye have been sentenced to 14 years in prison; Kifle, who is currently in exile in the US, has received a life sentence. The three were convicted on terrorism-related charges. The WiPC believes that the journalists have been convicted because of their critical reporting, in violation of their right to free expression. We call for their convictions to be overturned and for Alemu and Taye to be released.

On 19 January 2012, an Ethiopian court convicted Alemu, Taye and Kifle of lending support to groups designated ‘terrorist’ under Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law. On 26 January 2012, Alemu and Taye received 14-year prison sentences; Kifle received a life sentence.

Alemu, a contributor to the independent weekly Feteh, and Taye, deputy editor of the now-defunct Awramba Times, were arrested in June 2011 and accused of plotting to sabotage telephone and electricity lines; they were charged using anti-terrorism legislation in September 2011. It is widely believed by press freedom groups that they were targeted for their coverage of banned opposition groups. There are reports that Taye was tortured after his arrest, and that the health of both journalists deteriorated whilst in jail.

Kifle, editor of the US-based opposition website Ethiopian Review, was sentenced to life in absentia. In 2007 he was convicted of treason (also in absentia). The treason charge was based on his coverage of the government’s repression of the 2005 post-election protests.

For more information on Alemu, Taye and Kifle, please see our previous alert.


Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism 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 criticized as being vaguely worded and catch-all.

In December 2011, Swedish journalists Johann Persson and Martin Schibbye were controversially convicted of supporting terrorism and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Please send appeals:

Protesting the draconian sentences given to Woubshet Taye, Reeyot Alemu and Elias Kifle, and calling for the release of the Taye and Alemu;
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.

Appeals to:

Minister of Justice
Berhanu Hailu
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
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 25 March 2012***

For further details please contact Cathal Sheerin 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: cathal.sheerin@pen-international.org