An Ethiopian court’s conviction of prominent journalist Eskinder Nega (left), along with several other dissidents and activists, on terrorism charges will have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression, says the Obama administration.
“We condemn the convictions of Eskinder Nega and five other journalists who exercised their internationally recognized right to freedom of expression,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “With its ruling, the court has effectively criminalized free expression, trivialized the genuine threat of terrorism, and undermined the credibility of the judicial system in Ethiopia.”
Eskinder and opposition activists Andualem Arage were accused of invoking the “Arab Spring” revolts to spark protests against the government, Agence France-Presse reported.
“We are deeply concerned about the Ethiopian government’s conviction of a number of journalists and opposition members under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
“The arrest of journalists has a chilling effect on the media and on the right to freedom of expression,” she said. “We have made clear in our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Ethiopian government that freedom of expression and freedom of the media are fundamental elements of a democratic society.”
A leading Ethiopian journalist and dissident blogger, Nega was recently awarded the prestigious the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
PEN said the verdict demonstrated a “shameful disdain for Ethiopia’s obligations to its citizens and to international law.”
Nega’s case has drawn attention to the Ethiopian regime’s appalling human rights record and Western democracies’ complicity, say observers.
“America and its Western allies have aligned themselves closely with Ethiopia’s government in the fight against radical Islamists in the Horn of Africa and in efforts to prevent a repeat of the 1984–1985 famine,” said several leading supporters of Nega. “Worthy as these goals are, we should not allow them to blind us to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s increasingly authoritarian bent—as exhibited by his regime’s 99.6 percent election victory in 2010 and most recently the decision to prosecute Eskinder as a terrorist, along with seven other dissidents.”
Nega’s supporters include US Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, who called for up to $500,000 of US aid to Ethiopia’s military to be potentially withheld, depending on the Ethiopian government’s respect for freedom of expression
“That means enabling journalists like Eskinder Nega to do their work of reporting and peaceful political participation,” he said in a congressional statement on June 14.
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