UPDATE: Eskinder Nega's verdict postponed (PEN American Center, 11 May 2012)
(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, Apr. 23, 2012 - Twenty international journalists who have been recognised as World Press Freedom Heroes by the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) have condemned the Ethiopian government's decision to jail Eskinder Nega and other journalists on terrorism charges, and called for their immediate release.
Eskinder Nega, an online writer and critic of the current Ethiopian government, was arrested in September 2011 and is accused of supporting terrorism, for which he could face the death penalty if convicted. He was jailed shortly after having criticized the government's use of anti-terrorism laws to jail other journalists and opposition figures.
This is hardly Eskinder's first brush with the authorites – he and his wife, also a journalist, were jailed for 17 months on treason charges in the aftermath of the disputed 2005 elections. Their son was born in prison. Since then, Eskinder has been banned from journalism but has continued to speak out and write.
Ethiopia, which is set to host the World Economic Forum on Africa in May 2012, jailed Eskinder and four other journalists on anti-terrorism charges over the past year.
Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the now-defunct Awramba Times, and Reyot Alemu of Feteh newspaper were convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison this January. In December, Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johann Persson were sentenced to 11 years in prison for aiding terrorists. They had been arrested last year in the company of rebels in the Ogaden region.
Last month, IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to speak out against Ethiopia's use of anti-terror laws to jail journalists, which IPI said "makes a mockery of the universal right to 'hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers'.”
IPI noted that this practice also undermines “the fight against real terrorists, who use violence - and not words - to achieve their ends”.
Each of the men and women who signed this petition has been honoured for their contributions to freedom of the press in their home countries and around the world. Many have themselves been jailed for their work – indeed Turkish author and investigative reporter Nedim Sener's battle against terrorism charges, believed by observers to be designed to silence him as a journalist, is not over yet. Read their call for Ethiopia's journalists to be freed, below:
H.E. Meles Zenawi
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Via Fax: 2511-55-20-20
Dear Prime Minister,
We are writing to express our extremely strong condemnation of the Ethiopian government's decision to jail journalist Eskinder Nega on terrorism charges on Sep. 14, 2011. We believe the government's decision to arrest him violates the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press guaranteed by the Ethiopian constitution, the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The imprisonment of Eskinder Nega and other journalists represents the criminalisation of investigation and criticism, which should be part and parcel of any democratic society.
We are particularly concerned by reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that Eskinder may be subject to torture during his imprisonment.
We call on the Ethiopian government to unconditionally release Eskinder and other journalists unjustly detained; to ensure that he and others are treated humanely; to halt the use of anti-terrorism laws to prosecute journalists; and to fully defend the rights of the press outlined by Ethiopia's constitution and international agreements.
Please note that we are sending this statement to the authorities of the African Union – including the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Jean Ping, and the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Catherine Dupe Atoki. We wish to draw their attention to the fact that the conduct of the Ethiopian Government is in conflict with the protocols of the African Union, the African Union Charter, and the guarantees of freedom of expression protected under various international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Moreover, we find that the conduct of the Ethiopian government also brings the African Union into disrepute because its headquarters are in Addis Ababa.
Kenneth Best, Liberia – Kenneth Best founded The Daily Observer, Liberia's first independent daily, in 1981. As a result of its critical reporting of Samuel Doe's dictatorship, Kenneth Best was arrested on multiple occasions and the paper shut down four times, once for a period of two years. In 1990, when The Daily Observer facilities were burnt down, Kenneth Best and his family were exiled to The Gambia, where another newspaper of the same name was established.
Lydia Cacho, Mexico – One of Mexico's most famous journalists, reporting on organised crime, political corruption, domestic violence, and child prostitution, Lydia Cacho has raised awareness of serious issues facing women and children in Mexico. Lydia has written for Novedades de Cancún and Por Esto, as well as books including Los Demonios del Eden: El Poder Que Protege a la Pornografía Infantil ("The Demons of Eden: The Power That Protects Child Pornography"). Lydia Cacho remains committed to her work despite having been imprisoned and tortured.
Juan Pablo Cardenas – As chief editor of Análisis during General Pinochet's regime, Juan Pablo faced constant harassment and legal prosecution. Despite the murder of one of his journalists, Cardenas remained committed to reporting on government corruption and human rights abuses. He once endured a 541-night prison sentence for offending the armed forces in his editorials. Now, Juan Pablo continues to write for national and international publications and is currently a professor at the University of Chile's School of Journalism.
May Chidiac, Lebanon – Dr. May Chidiac is the founder and president of the May Chidiac Foundation. Known for her criticism of Syria's sway over Lebanon, an issue that was seldom critically discussed in the country, May Chidiac worked as the main anchor on political talk show Bi Kol Jor'a. May Chidiac nearly lost her life in a car bomb attack in 2005, which left her severely injured.
Sir Harold Evans, United Kingdom - One of Britain's most respected journalists and the crusading editor of The Sunday Times for 14 years, Sir Harold Evans brought a new style of investigative reporting to his country. He has authored and edited best-sellers and served as a contributor to various media houses including The Guardian and the BBC. In 2011, Sir Evans joined the Reuters news agency as editor-at-large.
Akbar Ganji, Iran – Often called 'Iran's most prominent political dissident', Akbar Ganji spent six years in Evin prison for a 1999 series of articles he wrote for Sobh Emrouz newspaper about Iran's notorious 'chain murders'. Akbar Ganji also wrote a number of articles accusing high level political figures and clerics of being involved in assassinations of dissidents and intellectuals. In 2000, Ganji was arrested for spreading propaganda and endangering national security. He spent six years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. However he used this time to write his “Republican Manifesto”. After his release in 2006, Akbar Ganji left Iran and has been campaigning for democracy. He published his first book in English in 2008, entitled The Road to Democracy in Iran.
Amira Hass, Israel – As a journalist for Ha'aretz, Amira Hass has covered the Gaza strip and Palestinian affairs for years, becoming the first Israeli journalist to live in the Palestinian territories. Amira Hass was convinced that the Israelis needed to know the truth about the plight of the Palestinian people. Despite arrests and confrontations with the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian National Authority, she continues to report with independence.
Daoud Kuttab, Jordan – Daoud Kuttab is General Manager at the Community Media Network, Amman and Founder of AmmanNet, Amman, Jordan, the Arab world's first Internet radio station. One of the best known Palestinian journalists, Kuttab fought for a free media in the Palestinian Territories under both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. He has worked for a number of publications including Al Fajr and Al Quds, but went on to help establish both the Arabic Media Internet Network in 1995 and the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in 1996.
Gwen Lister, Namibia – As founder and former editor of The Namibian, Gwen Lister remained committed to reporting injustice and corruption both before and after Namibia's independence from apartheid South Africa, despite prosecutions, raids and violent attacks. She previously co-founded the Windhoek Observer and worked as a political editor. She is a founder of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.
Raymond Louw, South Africa – Raymond Louw is a veteran champion of press freedom and journalists' rights. Chairman of the South African Press Council and one of the founding members of the South African National Editors' Forum, until 2011 Louw also worked as the editor and publisher of Southern Africa Report, a private current affairs weekly. Raymond Louw previously worked for the Sunday Times and the Rand Daily Mail, which was renowned for its investigative journalism with regards to apartheid and other issues.
Veran Matic, Serbia – As co-founder of Radio B92, Veran Matic provided an accurate and impartial account of events in Serbia, whilst standing up to pressure from the authorities and withstanding mulitple threats, physical attacks and arrests. B92 was banned in 1991 and again in 1996. The radio station was repeatedly jammed and then closed down, but it continued to operate via the Internet. Mass rallies and protests forced the authorities to open the station again. Matic established the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM), a network of independent radio stations in Serbia and Montenegro, in an attempt to provide listeners with objective news. ANEM is still going strong today with more than 50 independent radio and television stations.
Adam Michnik, Poland – As a former dissident, writer, historian, lecturer and journalist, Adam Michnik is known for his defence of human rights. He spent a total of six years in prison between 1965 and 1986 for his opposition to communist rule in Poland. As editor in chief of the first independent Polish daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, Adam Michnik has remained committed to the paper's independence. Today, the newspaper remains the top-selling daily in Poland, and one of the most respected in Europe.
Fred M'membe, Zambia – Known for his outspoken defence of press freedom and his paper's exposés on government corruption and abuses of power, Frank M'membe is founder and editor-in-chief for The Post, Zambia's leading independent daily. Despite harassment, raids, multiple lawsuits including accusations of defamation and treason confiscation and censorship, Frank M'membe continues to uphold the principle of press freedom. Frank M'membe is also a founder of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, which fosters a free and independent media.
Nizar Nayouf, Syria – Nizar Nayouf repeatedly paid the price for his work. While working as editor in chief for Sawt Al Democratiyya, and because of his affiliation with the Committee for the Defence of Democratic Freedom, Nayouf was sentenced in 1992 to ten years in prison. He spent most of this time in solitary confinement and was tortured, but still managed to write four books. Since his release from prison, Nizar Nayouf has left Syria and is chief editor of Syria Truth.
Pap Saine, The Gambia – Gambian publisher and editor Pap Saine is the publisher and editor of The Point and a Reuters correspondent for West and Central Africa. Pap Saine has faced imprisonment and harassment for his work, particularly for his commitment to press freedom and revealing the truth about Deyda Hydara, his co-founder who was murdered by unknown men in 2004.
Faraj Sarkohi, Iran – A writer and journalist, Faraj Sarkohi was persecuted by both the Shah of Iran and the Islamic Republic of Iran. As a result of his work for Adineh, a literary monthly he founded and edited, Faraj Sarkohi faced imprisonment and torture before he was forced into exile. He continues to campaign for greater press freedom in Iran.
Nedim Sener, Turkey – After spending a year behind bars, Nedim Sener was recently released from prison pending trial. He faces allegations that his criticism of government investigations into alleged coup plots demonstrated support for those plots. Sener is an author and investigative journalist with Turkish daily newspaper Posta. His work includes publication of a book on the 2007 murder of his friend, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, which accused Turkish security agencies of failing to prevent Dink's murder.
Arun Shourie, India – One of India's most renowned and controversial journalists, Arun Shourie was the uncompromising editor of the English-language daily Indian Express, and introduced a new style of independent investigative journalism to India. At one stage, there were 300 cases filed against the Indian Express by the government but Shourie remained committed to press freedom, ensuring him a vast following, and many enemies, across India. Arun Shourie is now working in politics and previously was a Minister for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Ricardo Uceda, Peru – Famous for his fearless reporting on government corruption and the military's abuse of human rights, Ricardo Uceda is one of Peru's most renowned investigative journalists. As editor of newsweekly Sí, Ricardo Uceda revealed military abuses and faced physical threats and censorship. Ricardo Uceda also founded the Investigative Unit of El Comercio, Peru's oldest daily, and previously he also worked for El Mundo, Expreso, El Diario, El Nacional, Canal 2 and La Razón, and is a founding member of Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Press and Society Institute).
Jose Ruben Zamora, Guatemala – Founder and former editor-in-chief of the independent daily Siglo Veintiuno (21st Century), Jose Ruben Zamora has built up a reputation for reporting on taboo subjects and exposés covering corruption, drug trafficking and human rights violations. Zamora resigned as editor in chief of Siglo Veintiuno in 1996 and launched a new daily, El Periódico, which continues its critical coverage. Zamora has faced censorship, harassment, death threats, kidnapping and attacks for his work.
IPI to Klaus Schwab: Speak out on press freedom in Ethiopia (IPI, 8 May 2012)
IPI World Press Freedom Heroes condemn imprisonment of journalist Eskinder Nega
UPDATE: Eskinder Nega's verdict postponed (PEN American Center, 11 May 2012)
What other IFEX members are saying
Related stories on ifex.org
Reyhana Masters for IFEX
Pardon and release of journalist Eskinder Nega overturned after his refusal to sign false confession
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
International Press Institute