African Rights Groups Urge Ethiopia to Release Journalists

25 Jul

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
by William Davison, Bloomberg

More than 40 press freedom and human rights organizations sent a letter to Ethiopia’s prime minister urging the release of journalists and bloggers imprisoned under anti-terrorism legislation, including 10 charged last week.

Seven bloggers and three journalists were accused on July 18 under the 2009 law and the country’s criminal code of working with a banned U.S.-based opposition group to plan attacks in Ethiopia and overthrow the government. They deny the allegations.

Signatories to the letter, including 26 African organizations, said the prosecutions were incompatible with Ethiopia’s commitments to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“We therefore urge your government to fulfill its obligations under international law and release all individuals who have been arbitrarily detained in violation of their fundamental rights,” the letter dated yesterday and e-mailed today by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said. “Such a practice violates international law and threatens to undermine the legitimacy of international security efforts in the region.”

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said July 18 that individuals prosecuted under the anti-terrorism law in Ethiopia were part of a regional network that begins in rival Eritrea and extends to Somalia, Kenya and South Sudan. “More than a dozen critical journalists” have been jailed under the statute, according to the CPJ.

The U.S. State Department is “deeply concerned” about the charges and pressed Ethiopia’s government to ensure the defendants receive a fair trial, it said in a July 18 statement on its website.

“Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental elections of a democratic society,” it said. “The arrest of journalists and bloggers, and their prosecution under terrorism laws, has a chilling effect on the media and all Ethiopians’ right to freedom of expression.”

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