Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose assault on press freedom led to the jailing of a number of journalists—and the exodus of many more—died last week in Brussels. Now Hailemariam Desalegn takes the helm as acting prime minister. Will he reverse the course that his predecessor led against free expression?
PEN has sent the following letter, urging Hailemariam to release our jailed colleagues, including 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner Eskinder Nega, and free Ethiopia’s besieged press.
August 28, 2012
Acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
P.O. Box 1031
Fax: +251 155 20 30
We are writing on behalf of the 3,000 members of PEN American Center to ask you, as you assume leadership of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, to review the cases of a number of our colleagues in the Ethiopian press who have been convicted unjustly for criminal offenses simply for practicing their profession.
Leading PEN’s list of those who have been so convicted is Eskinder Nega, who as you know was sentenced last month to 18 years in prison for articles and public statements expressing viewpoints your predecessor disfavored. The trial and conviction of Eskinder and 23 others under Ethiopia’s vaguely-worded anti-terror legislation attracted international attention to the climate for press freedom and freedom of expression in your country—a climate that contrasts sharply with the image of achievement and progress that Ethiopia aspires, for many commendable reasons, to project.