2013 prison census: 211 journalists jailed worldwide; seven of them are in Ethiopia

DECEMBER 18, 2013

Eskinder Nega, freelance

Imprisoned: September 14, 2011

Ethiopian security forcesarrested Eskinder, a prominent online columnist and former publisher and editor of now-shuttered newspapers, on vague accusations of involvement in a terrorism plot. The arrest came five days after Eskinder published a column on the U.S.-based news website EthioMedia that criticized the government for misusing the country’s sweeping anti-terrorism law to jail prominent journalists and dissident intellectuals.

Shortly after Eskinder’s arrest, state television portrayed the journalist as a spy for “foreign forces” and accused him of having links with the banned opposition movement Ginbot 7, which the Ethiopian government designated a terrorist entity. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal accused the detainee of plotting “a series of terrorist acts that would likely wreak havoc.” Eskinder consistently proclaimed his innocence, but was convicted on the basis of a video of a public town hall meeting in which he discussed the possibility of a popular uprising in Ethiopia if the ruling party did not deliver democratic reform, according to reports.

In July 2012, a federal high court judge in Addis Ababa sentenced Eskinder to an 18-year prison sentence, according to local journalists and news reports. Five exiled journalists were convicted in absentia at the same time.

Also in 2012, a U.N. panel found that Eskinder’s imprisonment came as “a result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” according to a reportpublished in April 2013.

In May 2013, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal and upheld the sentence.

CPJ believes the charges are part of a pattern of government persecution of Eskinder in reprisal for his coverage. In 2011, police detained Eskinder and threatened him in connection with his online columns that drew comparisons between the Egyptian uprising and Ethiopia’s 2005 pro-democracy protests, according to news reports. His coverage of the Ethiopian government’s repression of the 2005 protests landed him in jail for 17 months on anti-state charges at the time. After his release in 2007, authorities banned his newspapers and denied him licenses to start new ones. He was first arrested in September 1993 in connection with his articles in the Amharic weekly Ethiopis, one of the country’s first independent newspapers, about the government’s crackdown on dissent in Western Ethiopia, according to CPJ research.

Eskinder was being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, with restricted visitation rights, in late 2013.

Woubshet Taye, Awramba Times

Imprisoned: June 19, 2011

Police arrested Woubshet, deputy editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times, after raiding his home in the capital, Addis Ababa, and confiscating documents, cameras, CDs, and selected copies of the newspaper, according to local journalists. The outlet’s top editor, CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee Dawit Kebede, fledthe country in November 2011 in fear of being arrested; the newspaper is published online from exile.

Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal said Woubshet was among several people accused of planning terrorist attacks on infrastructure, telecommunications, and power lines with the support of an unnamed international terrorist group and Ethiopia’s neighbor, Eritrea, according to news reports. In January 2012, a court in Addis Ababa sentenced Woubshet to 14 years in prison, news reports said.

CPJ believes Woubshet’s conviction was in reprisal for Awramba Times‘ critical coverage of the government. Prior to his arrest, Woubshet had written a column criticizing what he saw as the ruling party’s tactics of weakening and dividing the media and the opposition, Dawit told CPJ. Woubshet had been targeted in the past. He was detained for a week in November 2005 during the government’s crackdown on news coverage of unrest that followed disputed elections.

In April 2013, authorities transferred Woubshet from Kilinto Prison, outside Addis Ababa, to a detention facility in the town of Ziway, about 83 miles southeast of the capital, according to local journalists and the Awramba Times. Ziway, one Ethiopia’s largest prisons, is a maximum-security jail designed for those convicted of serious offenses, according to local journalists. The authorities did not provide a reason for the transfer. In November, Woubshet was transferred back to Kality prison because he was in poor health, according to local journalists.

Woubshet did not appeal his conviction and applied for a pardon, according to local journalists. In August 2013, the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice rejected the request for a pardon, the Awramba Times reported.

In October 2013, Woubshet was honored with the Free Press Africa Award at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards in Cape Town, South Africa.

Reeyot Alemu, freelance

Imprisoned: June 21, 2011

Ethiopian security forces arrested Reeyot, a prominent, critical columnist for the leading independent weekly Feteh, at an Addis Ababa high school where she taught English. Authorities raided her home and seized documents and other materials before taking her into custody at the Maekelawi federal detention center.

Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal said Reeyot was among several people accused of planning terrorist attacks on infrastructure, telecommunications, and power lines in the country with the support of an unnamed international terrorist group and Ethiopia’s neighbor, Eritrea, according to news reports. Authorities filed terrorism charges against Reeyot in September 2011, according to local journalists.

The High Court sentenced Reeyot in January 2012 to 14 years in prison for planning a terrorist act; possessing property for a terrorist act; and promoting a terrorist act. The conviction was based on emails she had received from pro-opposition discussion groups; reports she had sent to the U.S.-based opposition news site Ethiopian Review; and unspecified money transfers from her bank account, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ.

CPJ believes Reeyot’s conviction is due to columns she wrote that accused authorities of governing by coercion, by (for example) allowing access to economic and educational opportunities only to those who were members of the ruling party, according to CPJ’s review of the translations in 2013. In the last column published before her arrest, she wrote that the ruling party had deluded itself in believing it held the legitimacy of popular support in the way of late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, according to local journalists.

In August 2012, the Supreme Court overturned Reeyot’s conviction on the planning and possession charges, but upheld the charge of promoting terrorism. The courtreduced her sentence to five years. Click Here to read the profiles of other prisoners.




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