Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Case of Eskinder Nega

The New York Review of Books
JANUARY 12, 2012 • VOLUME 59, NUMBER 1

To the Editors:

On September 14, 2011, Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and dissident blogger, was arrested by the Ethiopian authorities shortly after publishing an online column calling for an end to torture in Ethiopian prisons, a halt to the imprisonment of dissidents, and respect for freedom of expression. The charges against him are punishable by death, and carry a minimum sentence of fifteen years in prison,1 where both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch warn that he is at risk of torture.

Previous to his current arrest, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem Fasil, both newspaper publishers, were charged with treason following Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 elections, along with dozens of journalists, human rights activists, and opposition leaders, and spent seventeen months in jail. While in custody, Serkalem gave birth to their first child. Even after they were acquitted by Ethiopia’s Federal High Court, Eskinder and Serkalem were blocked from reopening their newspapers and the government continued to pursue civil charges against them.2

Eskinder also was detained earlier this year, after he published an online column asking members of the security services not to shoot unarmed demonstrators—as they did in 2005—in the event that the “Arab Spring” should spread to Ethiopia.3

Most of us would have fled into exile after such treatment—as have nearly all of Ethiopia’s significant opposition leaders and independent journalists since 2005. In all, eleven independent journalists and bloggers have been charged with terrorism this year, five of whom are behind bars. Ethiopia tops Iran and Cuba to lead the world in the number of journalists who have been forced into exile over the past decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.4

Having spent a large part of his childhood in suburban Washington, D.C., and being in possession of a US residence permit, Eskinder could have easily followed. That he has not is testimony to his commitment to democratic values that Western governments say they hold dear.

America and its Western allies have aligned themselves closely with Ethiopia’s government in the fight against radical Islamists in the Horn of Africa and in efforts to prevent a repeat of the 1984–1985 famine. Worthy as these goals are, we should not allow them to blind us to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s increasingly authoritarian bent—as exhibited by his regime’s 99.6 percent election victory in 2010 and most recently the decision to prosecute Eskinder as a terrorist, along with seven other dissidents.5

We therefore call on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s Western allies to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent. We also urge the US to ensure that our more than $6006 million in aid to Ethiopia is not used to foster repression.7

William Easterly
Professor of Economics
Co-Director, Development
Research Institute
New York University
New York City

Mark Hamrick
National Press Club
Washington, D.C.

Aryeh Neier
Open Society Foundations
New York City

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch
New York City

Joel Simon
Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists
New York City

1. See charging document (Amharic), at ↩

2. See also "Ethiopia Reinstates Hefty Fines Against Publishing Houses," Committee to Protect Journalists , March 10, 2010, ↩

3.See also "Ethiopian Journalist Alleges Detention for Inciting Egypt-Style Protests," Voice of America , February 17, 2011, ↩

4."Journalists in Exile 2011," Committee to Protect Journalists. Available at ↩

5."Ethiopia Charges Opposition Figures, Reporter With Terrorism," Voice of America , November 10, 2011, ↩

6.See US foreign assistance figures at ↩

7.See Helen Epstein, "Cruel Ethiopia," The New York Review , May 13, 2010, See also Human Rights Watch , March 24, 2010, "One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure: Violations of Freedom and Association in Ethiopia," and October 19, 2010, "Development Without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia, ↩

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Letter From Reporters Without Borders to UN Special Rapporteur On Abuse of Anti-Terrorism Law

Ben Emmerson

Paris, 20 December 2011

Dear Sir,

Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that campaigns for freedom of the press, wishes to draw your attention to the worsening climate for journalists in Ethiopia since the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi began using anti-terrorism legislation against them.

Since the law was passed in July 2009, Reporters Without Borders has written to the Ethiopian authorities to point out its shortcomings and how it can be misused against the press. The organization feared the law might be used to curb freedom of the press and crack down on journalists. In 2011, our fears were confirmed.

In June, Woubeshet Taye, the deputy editor of the Amharic-language weekly Awramba Times, and Reyot Alemu, a columnist for the Amharic-language weekly Fitih, were arrested. Both were accused of complicity with a group regarded as a terrorist organization.

On 1 July, two Swedish journalists of the Kontinent news agency, reporter Martin Schibbye and photojournalist Johan Persson, were arrested for entering Ogaden illegally to report on human rights abuses in the region, which is closed to the press. They are accused of entering Ethiopia illegally - which they have already admitted in court - and also of supporting a terrorist group.

Finally, in November the authorities charged six Ethiopian journalists, some of whom are in exile, with terrorism offences.

Serious though this is for those who have been arrested and prosecuted, Sir, it is also damaging for Ethiopia's privately-owned media as a whole. It fosters self-censorship and nurtures fear.

This climate has forced at least three journalists who feared arrest to flee the country in November. These were Abebe Tola, known as "Abe Tokichaw", a well-known columnist for the weeklies Fitih and Awramba Times, Tesfaye Degu of the newspaper Netsanet, and Dawit Kebede, managing editor of the Awramba Times.

The 2009 law has become a real threat for the news industry. In the name of the fight against terrorism, the government muzzles dissident and critical voices, thus abusing human rights and fundamental freedoms.

For this reason, we urge you to visit Ethiopia. In your capacity as Special Rapporteur in this field, it is incumbent on you to meet the Ethiopian government and persuade it to stop using the fight against terrorism to penalise freedom of expression.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you require further details of the journalists who have been arrested and penalised.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Jean-Fran├žois Julliard

CC: Frank La Rue, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dismantling Dissent: Intensified Crackdown on Free Speech in Ethiopia

An new detailed and comprehensive report by Amnesty International, the London based watchdog, reveals that the crackdown on free speech by Ethiopian authorities has even more intensified since March 2011.

According to the Report, since March 2011, at least 108 opposition party members and six journalists have been arrested in Ethiopia for alleged involvement with various proscribed terrorist groups. By November, 107 of the detainees had been charged with crimes under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Criminal Code. A further six journalists, two opposition party members and one human rights defender, all living in exile, were charged in absentia. Trials in all these cases have begun, and are ongoing at time of writing.

Amnesty International believes that the prolonged series of arrests and prosecutions indicates systematic use of the law and the pretext of counter-terrorism by the Ethiopian government to silence people who criticise or question their actions and policies, especially opposition politicians and the independent media. Whilst these groups have often been arrested and prosecuted in the past, the large numbers of arrests indicates an intensified crackdown on freedom of expression in 2011.

Many of those arrested during 2011 have been vocal in their commentary on national politics and in criticising government practise, in the course of their legitimate roles as journalists and opposition politicians. As a result, many had been harassed by state actors over a long period, and in some cases arrested and prosecuted. Many arrests in 2011 came in the days immediately after individuals publicly criticised the government, were involved in public calls for reform, applied for permission to hold demonstrations at a time when the government feared large-scale protests taking place, or attempted to conduct investigative journalism in a region of Ethiopia to which the government severely restricts access.

Much of the evidence against those charged, and listed in the charge sheets, involves items and activities which do not appear to amount to terrorism or criminal wrongdoing. Rather, many items of evidence cited appear to be illustrations of individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression, acting peacefully and legitimately as journalists or members of opposition parties, and which should not be the subject of criminal sanctions. Evidence cited includes articles written by the defendants criticising the government or journalistic reporting on calls for peaceful protest. In relation to some of the charges, it appears that the overly broad definitions of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation are being used to prosecute individuals for any display of dissent. Calls for peaceful protest are being interpreted as acts of terrorism.

The trials of these individuals have become highly politicised due to the interest of, and statements made by, senior members of the government, including by the Prime Minister, who declared in the national parliament that all the defendants are guilty. Amnesty International is concerned that these comments could exert political pressure on the courts. These comments could also violate the right of the defendants to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

All 114 opposition members and journalists arrested during 2011 were initially detained at Maikelawi detention centre, where they were denied the rights accorded to detainees under Ethiopian and international law. All were denied access to lawyers and family members during the initial stages of their detention, increasing their risk of being subjected to other human rights violations. Many of the detainees complained, including in court, that they experienced torture and other ill-treatment during their detention and interrogation in Maikelawi. According to available information, the court has not ordered an investigation into any of the complaints of torture made by defendants, nor have the authorities indicated any intention of conducting investigations. Many of the detainees were reportedly forced to sign confessions or forced to acknowledge ownership or association by signing items of seemingly incriminating evidence.

Amnesty International believes that all the journalists and opposition members cited in this report were arrested primarily because of their legitimate and peaceful criticism of the government, and that the high level of political interest in the cases increases the risk that the independence of the judicial process will be subverted. The human rights violations widely reported to have taken place during pre-trial detention, and already raised in court several times with no result, raise further concerns that these individuals will not receive a fair trial and that they will be convicted for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association. It is essential, therefore, that all six trials mentioned in this report are systematically monitored for their compliance with international fair trial standards. In the absence of a functioning civil society in a position to undertake trial monitoring, Amnesty International is calling on the representatives of the international community in Addis Ababa to take up the role of monitoring the trials.

The Prime Minister expressed an intention to arrest more members of the political opposition, indicating that the crackdown is not yet over and, indeed, the arrests continue. In the first week of December Amnesty International received reports that at least 135 people had been arrested across Oromia, including members and supporters of the Oromo People’s Congress and Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement political parties.

These arrests, prosecutions and ongoing high level of government interest and involvement have had a wider impact on the exercise of freedom of expression in Ethiopia. They send a chilling message to other opposition politicians, journalists and anybody who has concerns about the policies and actions of their government to keep quiet, ask no questions or risk arrest. Several journalists and opposition members have already fled the country as a result.

It appears that the Ethiopian government is determined to destroy the few remaining traces of free expression in the country. There is increasingly no space in Ethiopia for individuals and publications who hold different opinions, represent different political parties or attempt to provide independent commentary on political developments.

To read the entire Report click on the title above.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ethiopian Illicit Outflows Doubled In 2009, New Report Says

By Christopher Matthews

Ethiopia lost $11.7 billion to outflows of ill-gotten gains between 2000 and 2009, according to a coming report by Global Financial Integrity.

That’s a lot of money to lose to corruption for a country that has a per-capita GDP of just $365. In 2009, illicit money leaving the country totaled $3.26 billion, double the amount in each of the two previous years. The capital flight is also disturbing because the country received $829 million in development aid in 2008.

According to GFI economist Sarah Freitas, who co-authored the report, corruption, kickbacks and bribery accounted for the vast majority of the increase in illicit outflows.

“The scope of Ethiopia’s capital flight is so severe that our conservative US$3.26 billion estimate greatly exceeds the US$2 billion value of Ethiopia’s total exports in 2009,” Freitas wrote in a blog post on the website of the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development.

The report, titled “Illicit Financial Flows from Developing Countries over the Decade Ending 2009,” drew on data from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on external debt and trade mis-pricing to calculate illicit capital leakage. The study, which will be released later this month, measures the illicit financial flows out of 160 different developing nations.

Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on earth as 38.9% of Ethiopians live in poverty, and life expectancy in 2009 was just 58 years.

“The people of Ethiopia are being bled dry,” Freitas wrote. “No matter how hard they try to fight their way out of absolute destitution and poverty, they will be swimming upstream against the current of illicit capital leakage.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Persecution of Ethiopian Journalists

Bertrand Pecquerie, CEO
Global Editors Network
Paris, France

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing as a proud member of The Global Editors Network(GEN), a
blogger, journalist, and scholar to bring to your attention the
continued and ever mounting persecution of journalists by the
Government of Ethiopia(GoE) in different manners. The GOE has
recently intensified the arrest and systematic harassment of
journalists and pundits publishing critical analyses, unfavorable
news, and unflattering contents.

In the trial held on November 23, 2011 of 24 people charged with
terrorism on November 10 where six of the suspects were journalists.
So far, ten journalists are being tried in three separate terrorism
related cases in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia is currently making illegal
use of its anti-terror law as a pretext to arrest journalists and
political activists. The editor of one of Ethiopia's few remaining
independent Amharic-language newspapers has fled the country amid
concerns that more arrests are coming. In this regard, Human Rights
Watch and Amnesty International issued a statement on 21 November 2011
calling on Ethiopian authorities to stop using anti-terrorism laws to
stifle political dissent.

Many Ethiopians, who did their best and hardest to remain neutral and
objective in the highly divided and polarized domestic politics, have
already run out of any hermeneutic charity with GoE ever since the
latest institution of a criminal suit in absentia on counts of
terrorism against Abiye Teklemariam and Mesfin Negash, the two
founding journalists of Addis Neger, who went into exile two years
ago, and worst of all, after it had been consistently denying that it
had no intention of criminally charging them and after the gruesome
rebuttal it issued against the teacher who burnt himself in protest
to the effect that he had been suffering from mental illness.

This is therefore to kindly request GEN to issue a statement
condemning, in the strongest possible terms, the unconstitutional acts
of the Government of Ethiopia.

Alemayehu Fentaw
Chicago, IL.