Eskinder Nega is serving an 18 year prison sentence for writing an article that posed the question: could an Arab Spring-like movement take place in Ethiopia? This is the eighth time in his 20 year career that he has been imprisoned simply for doing his job. If Eskinder's conviction is not quashed. His seven year old son will be an adult before he is released.
“I am jailed, with around 200 other inmates, in a wide hall that looks like a warehouse. For all of us, there are only three toilets. Most of the inmates sleep on the floor, which has never been swept. About 1,000 prisoners share the small open space here at Kaliti Prison. One can guess our fate if a communicable disease breaks out.” – Eskinder Nega, ‘Letter From Ethiopia’s Gulag’
Reeyot Alemu is a teacher and a freelance journalist, sentenced to 5 years in prison on trumped up charges of ‘terrorism’. She wrote about poverty, minority rights and mismanagement of funds on large government projects, including a hydroelectric dam. There is serious concern about her health and she has suffered from mistreatment while incarcerated. The prison authorities refuse visits with her fiancé and her sister. In 2013, whilst in prison, she received the World Press Freedom Award.
“Reeyot Alemu talked about the imprisoning of journalists and asked, ‘who will expose the unpleasant truths of those in power if not journalists?’ She also said, ‘I call on you to do everything you can to stop suppression of press.’” - International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) representative collecting the UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize on Reeyot’s behalf.
Eskinder and Reeyot are serving prison sentences simply for doing their jobs: reporting on public policy and holding government to account. The government used the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to convict them. In 2013, in recognition of their journalistic work, Eskinder and Reeyot were nominated for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
Eskinder and Reeyot are not alone. Since the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation was adopted, at least 15 journalists have been prosecuted for ‘terrorism’ and over 14 news outlets have been shut down.
None of them got a fair trial.
“It is virtually impossible within the Ethiopian justice system for a journalist who has been unlawfully imprisoned to get justice” – Nani Jansen, MLDI Senior Legal Counsel
With the backing of Eskinder and Reeyot we are hoping to change this situation. They are allowing us to bring their case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights as a test case. We want the Commission to recognize this situation as a gross and systemic violation of the rights of Ethiopian journalists and escalate this to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which has the power to deliver a binding judgment and order the Ethiopian government to free Eskinder and Reeyot as well as other journalists unjustly convicted.
The funds you contribute will be used to pay for the legal campaign. While the lawyers involved all give their time for free, there will be expenses in the translation of legal documents, the attendance of court hearings and other court-related expenses. We will provide regular updates to all those who donate.
The Media Legal Defence Initiative helps independent media and journalists defend their rights. It is a registered charity in the United Kingdom.
MLDI works with a global network of expert media and human rights lawyers, and wins the vast majority of cases it takes on. With your help it hopes to be able to add Eskinder and Reeyot's case to the list of journalists it has helped keep free. See MLDI's website, www.mediadefence.org, for more information about its work and cases.