Ethiopia: Two more journalists arrested under antiterrorism legislation; fears of torture

English PEN protests the arrest and detention of two more journalists under Ethiopia’s sweeping antiterrorist legislation. Sileshi Hagos and Eskinder Nega were arrested on 9 and 14 September 2011 respectively, accused of involvement with the banned political party Ginbot 7. They appeared before a court on 15 September and were remanded in custody for 28 days. There are concerns that Nega has been ill-treated in detention.

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Their arrest follows that of four other journalists, two Ethiopian and two Swedish, all imprisoned on terrorism charges since June this year (see previous alert for more details.)

English PEN fears that the journalists are being targeted for their critical reporting in violation of their right to freedom of expression. We are calling on the Ethiopian authorities to drop the charges and release them, and in the meantime to ensure that they are given immediate access to the medical treatment they require as a matter of urgency. Please send appeals – guidelines and addresses below.

The following is a press release issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ):

New York, September 16, 2011–Authorities in Ethiopia arrested two independent journalists this week on accusations of involvement in a terrorism plot, bringing the total number of journalists imprisoned since June under the country’s far-reaching antiterrorism legislation to six, CPJ research shows.

On September 9, Ethiopian security forces picked up journalist Sileshi Hagos at his home, local journalists told CPJ. A contributor to the Addis Ababa-based radio station 96.3 FM, Hagos was the former managing director of the now-defunct political monthly magazine Change, which used to cover the banned political group Ginbot 7 before it was designated a terrorist organization. He is also the fiancé of journalist Reeyot Alemu, who has been imprisoned under terrorism charges since July, according to CPJ research. Authorities interrogated Hagos and confiscated his laptop shortly after they arrested Alemu, local journalists said.

On Wednesday afternoon, security forces also picked up journalist and dissident blogger Eskinder Nega [pictured left], local journalists told CPJ, adding that they suspected some of Nega’s latest writings, including a column criticizing the government’s arrest of the famed Ethiopian actor Debebe Eshetu on terrorism charges, triggered his arrest.

“In the past four months, authorities have used sweeping terrorism laws to detain six independent journalists in an attempt to wipe out the few critical voices left in the country,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “If the authorities have credible evidence against any of these journalists, let them present it publicly. Otherwise, they must release them.”

Shortly after Hagos and Nega were arrested, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front-controlled state television portrayed them as “spies for foreign forces” and accused them of harboring links with Ginbot 7. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal accused the journalists, and the activists detained with them, of plotting “a series of terrorist acts that would likely wreak havoc.”

Hagos and Nega were presented in court on Thursday and remanded into police custody until October 12 to allow the police to carry out their investigations, local journalists told CPJ. Police specifically forbade visitors in the courtroom when Nega was in court, local journalists told CPJ.
Nega and his wife, Fasil, were imprisoned for 17 months on antistate charges for their critical coverage of the brutal government repression of peaceful protests following the disputed 2005 elections, according to CPJ research. Both were eventually acquitted and released in April 2007, but authorities have since blocked them from restarting new newspapers.

September 16, 2011 5:04 PM ET

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.

 

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