PEN Appeal: Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, and Elias Kifle

January 30, 2012

Minister of Justice

Berhanu Hailu
Ministry of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 551 7775/ 7755

Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Seyoum Mesfin
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
P.O. Box 393
Addis Ababa
Ethiopia
Fax: +251 11 551 43 00

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the sentencing of journalists Woubshet Taye, Reeyot Alemu, and Elias Kifle.

According to our information, on January 19, 2012, Woubshet Taye, deputy editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times, and Reeyot Alemu, contributor to the independent weekly newspaper Feteh, were convicted of lending support to groups designated as “terrorist” under Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law, and on January 26, the men were sentenced to 14 years in prison. There have been reports that Taye was tortured after his arrest, and that the health of both journalists deteriorated while in jail. It is believed that Taye and Alemu were targeted because of their journalistic work covering opposition groups. The anti-terrorism law, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes which the government considers to be “terrorist,” has been widely criticized as vaguely worded and catch-all.

Elias Kifle, editor of the Washington-based anti-government web site Ethiopian Review, was tried in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment on the same day. He is currently living in exile in the United States, and was previously convicted of treason in 2007, based on his coverage of the government’s repression of the 2005 post-election protests.

PEN American Center believes that Woubshet Taye, Reeyot Alemu, and Elias Kifle have been sentenced solely in relation to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Ethiopia is a signatory. We therefore protest the harsh sentences handed down to them and call for the immediate and unconditional release of Taye and Alemu.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this critical matter.

Sincerely,
                      
Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Mr. Tesfaye Yilma
Chargé d’Affaires
Embassy of Ethiopia to the United States
3506 International Drive NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 587-0195

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