Ethiopia threatens journalist with solitary confinement – CPJ

New York, April 10, 2013 – In a letter to Ethiopia’s Justice Minister Berhan Hailu, the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern about the deteriorating health of Reeyot Alemu, a 2012 recipient of the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, who has been imprisoned since June 2011, and appealed for the withdrawal of threats of solitary confinement being used to intimidate her. Reeyot is serving a five year sentence following her conviction on vague terrorism charges based on her political reporting and commentary.

April 10, 2013

His Excellency Berhan Hailu
Minister of Justice
P.O. Box 1370
Addis Ababa

Via facsimile: +251-11-517-755
Via email:

Dear Minister Birhan Hailu,

We are writing to bring to your attention the case of Ethiopian journalist and teacher Reeyot Alemu, whose health has deteriorated since her imprisonment in June 2011 on terrorism charges and who is now being threatened with solitary confinement. The Ethiopian Ministry of Justice has publicly subscribed to a vision in which “human and democratic rights are respected,” yet Reeyot’s full human rights are being denied to her in Kality Prison.

The Ethiopian High Court sentenced Reeyot, a columnist for the now-defunct independent weekly Feteh, to 14 years in prison on January 2012 under the country’santi-terrorism law. In August 2012, the Supreme Court acquitted her on two counts, but upheld the charge against her of participation in the promotion or communication of a terrorist act, and reduced her sentence to five years.

Prison authorities have threatened Reeyot with solitary confinement for two months as punishment for alleged bad behavior toward them and threatening to publicize human rights violations by prison guards, according to sources close to the journalist who spoke to the International Women’s Media Foundation on condition of anonymity. CPJ has independently verified the information. Reeyot has also been denied access to adequate medical treatment after she was diagnosed with a tumor in her breast, the sources said.

We would like to draw your attention to the 2011 report by Juan E. Méndez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, in which he urged the prohibition of “the imposition of solitary confinement as punishment–either as part of a judicially imposed sentence or a disciplinary measure.” We would also remind you that Ethiopia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and is legally bound to uphold these principles.

As a current member of the United Nations Human Rights Council and a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Ethiopia has committed itself to upholding the human rights of all of its citizens. This includes the right to freedom of expression and speech, as well as protection from cruel and inhumane forms of punishment such as solitary confinement.

All of the charges against Reeyot were based on her journalistic activities–emails she had received from pro-opposition discussion groups and reports and photographs she had sent to opposition news sites. Reeyot, who received the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2012, has covered key developmental issues in Ethiopia such as poverty, democratic opposition, and gender equality.

The prison sentence against Reeyot for performing her duties and exercising her rights as a journalist to ask questions and express opinions calls into question Ethiopia’s commitment to the democratic values and human rights the country claims to uphold.

We urge you to fulfill Ethiopia’s promise to build a humane and democratic state by withdrawing the threat of solitary confinement against Reeyot and ensuring her access to adequate medical care. No journalists should face detention or imprisonment in the exercise of their duty.

Yours sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director
CC List:

Shiferaw Tekle-Mariam, minister of federal affairs of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia

Girma Birru Geda, ambassador of Ethiopia to the United States

Donald Booth, ambassador of the United States to Ethiopia

Lieselore Cyrus, ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ethiopia

Greg Dorey, ambassador of the United Kingdom to Ethiopia

Xavier Marcha, head of the European Union Delegation to Ethiopia

Juan E. Méndez, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, U.N. Human Rights Council

Claudio Grossman, chairperson, United Nations Committee against Torture

Firmin Edouard Matoko, UNESCO representative to Ethiopia

Pansy Tlakula, special rapporteur on freedom of expression, African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights

Med S.K. Kaggwa, special rapporteur on prisons and conditions of detention, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Reine Alapini-Gansou, commissioner and special rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Margaret Sekaggya, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Arnold Tsunga, director, Africa Program, International Commission of Jurists

Antoine Bernard, chief executive officer, International Federation for Human Rights

Berhane Melka, head of Federal Prison Administration, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tombet Ariane, head of delegation, International Committee of the Red Cross, Ethiopia

Alana Barton, program manager, International Women’s Media Foundation, United States

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Posted by on April 11, 2013. Filed under FEATURED. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Ethiopia threatens journalist with solitary confinement – CPJ

  1. Kinfe-Michael Abay

    April 11, 2013 at 12:24 PM

    Dear Concerned Ladies & Gentlemen,

    1. Has it ever occurred to you that it is meaningless to write to a justice minister of a regime without rule of law?
    2. Instead, has it occurred to you to send a word of strong statement to your own President to urge him to put all the weight of his office to stand against the injustice committed on journalists and all the genuine democrats suffering in the dungeons of the dictators in Ethiopia, so that He may come to his senses, instead rubbing shoulders with these dictators,- before they also encounter the fate of Moubarek and his likes! Before it is too late. Ethiopians have in-between lost any of the faith they used to have in the authenticity of all the cries for “democracy & Human rights” from the white house. May be you concerned intellectuals may try to move them to a better conscience instead of the never-ending talk about “American vital interests”!
    3. I am sure you concerned intellectuals/ orgs etc. are all aware of the fact that without the support of USA & Western Europe, the regime, (sic – the genre of the 99,x% “democracy”) will not survive a day! 3 Billion Dollars annual budgetary support – your own tax revenues to support dictatorship and their prisons!
    Therefore a word of protest to your president would move a lot more than such formal statements to the “minds made out of stones, -cement and concrete”! The Germans correctly call such minds, “Beton-Köpfe”. You are writing to these “Beton-Köpfe!
    4. Has it ever occurred to you to write to the president of South Korea! No! By such letters I even feel that you are giving them some sort of legitimacy to their fake rule of law!
    4. Instead, therefore I would suggest that you collect millions, if not even thousands of signatures from all the concerned people of your kind with a sense of good conscience and send the petition to your president! May be this will have a better or perhaps a minute impact; – perhaps! (Though I personally doubt it, Obama so far was only good enough for USA, all the talk about the universal rights of Man has only proved to be empty vapor, at least for Ethiopians, my point of concern!)! Otherwise all such endeavors have only, I am sorry, a touch of hypocrisy; just enough or instrumental to soothe one’s own conscience!
    5. Sorry for my strong words, but things in Ethiopia are going extreme; extreme to the point of ethnic cleansing! If you follow, not only the past, but even the current news! It is no more; let us say a blatant question of no rule of law; democracy and universal rights, but a case in point indicating to genocide!
    6. Please take your time, throw away your light bias, if ever there may be in your minds, and have a look at the following documentary material! If you don’t want, you may not have to take all the wording of our angered minds in the clips, but the facts remain facts! Your president is for sure aware of all the facts in the clips, if not I suggest, you could as well send it to his office in support of your petition!