Trial of Ethiopian Journalist Facing Death Sentence to Begin Monday

March 5th, 2012 | by addis portal |

The Committee to Free Eskinder Nega called for the Ethiopian government to drop terrorism charges against banned journalist and dissident blogger Eskinder Nega. Eskinder’s trial begins today in Addis Ababa and the charges against him carry a maximum sentence of death.
Nega is a prominent Ethiopian journalist arrested on Sept. 14 and detained under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009. Just prior to his arrest, Nega had published an online column critical of the use of the terrorism law to silence dissent and calling for the Ethiopian government to respect freedom of expression and end torture in the country’s prisons.
“Ethiopian courts have a long record of convicting political dissidents on trumped-up charges,” said Jason McLure, coordinator of the Committee to Free Eskinder Nega. “Pressing capital charges against a journalist is nothing short of barbaric. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi should order his government’s prosecutors to drop Eskinder’s case immediately and release him from prison.”

The veteran journalist and blogger has been detained at least seven times by Prime Minister Zenawi’s government over the past two decades. He and his wife, journalist and publisher Serkalem Fasil, were jailed from 2005 to 2007 in the aftermath of the country’s disputed elections along with dozens of other journalists, rights activists and opposition leaders. Since that time, the couple has been banned from re-opening their newspapers or opening new publications.

Ethiopia currently has seven journalists behind bars, and has forced 79 journalists into exile over the past decade, more than any country in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. In December a court in Ethiopia sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years in prison after they entered the country illegally to do a story on the separatists Ogaden National Liberation Front.

Earlier this year the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, singled out Nega’s case and warned the Ethiopian government that “journalists, bloggers and others advocating for increased respect for human rights should not be subject to pressure for the mere fact that their views are not in alignment with those of the government.

Ethiopia is a top recipient of aid, receiving $3.8 billion in 2009 alone from donors including the U.S., the U.K. and the World Bank. Ethiopia’s two top donors, the United States and the United Kingdom, have refrained from making critical statements about the terrorism case against Nega and other political prisoners. In November Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized Western donor nations for failing to adequately monitor terrorism trials against Ethiopian political dissidents.

“Western donors—in particular the United States and British governments—have failed to make clear to Prime Minister Zenawi that terrorism charges and the threat of the death penalty is an unacceptable way to deal with political dissent and critical journalism,” said McLure. “We urge them to end their silence about attacks on the press and freedom of speech in Ethiopia.”

In December the Committee to Free Eskinder Nega released a petition signed by dozens of international journalists, rights advocates and scholars calling for Eskinder’s release. The New York Review of Books also published a separate letter about Eskinder’s case signed by the heads of the National Press Club, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Open Society Foundation and the author William Easterly.

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