Ethiopia: Two journalists detained incommunicado without charge

English PEN 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. There are fears that the journalists are being targeted for their critical reporting in violation of their right to freedom of expression, and we are therefore calling on the Ethiopian authorities to clarify the reason for their arrest immediately.

On 19 June 2011, security agents reportedly arrested Woubshet Taye, 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 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, 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.

Useful links

– Report on Alemu’s arrest by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) (23 June 2011)
– Report on Taye’s arrest by CPJ (21 June 2011)
– CPJ blog entry on Ethiopia’s antiterrorism law (24 June 2011)


Please send appeals:

– Protesting the incommunicado detention without charge of Awramba Times deputy editor Woubshet Taye and Feteh columnist Reeyot Alemu, who were arrested on 19 and 21 June 2011 respectively;
– Expressing concern that the journalists may have been arrested 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;
– Calling on the authorities to clarify the reason for the journalists’ arrest as a matter of urgency and to allow them access to visits from lawyers, doctors and family members.

Appeals to:

Minister of Justice
Berhanu Hailu
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Fax: 251 11 551 7775/ 7755
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  
Salutation: Dear Minister
Please also send a copy of your letter to the Ethiopian diplomatic representative in the UK:

His Excellency Mr. Ato Berhanu Kebede
Embassy of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
17 Princes Gate,
Fax: 020 7584 7054

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