28 March 2018 - The arrest of five journalists and bloggers, including 2018 Oxfam Novib/PEN International Freedom of Expression Award winner Eskinder Nega, alongside other activists on 25 March 2018, is a blow to freedom of expression in Ethiopia, said PEN International today. Nega had recently been released from prison in February 2018 after a pardon. PEN condemns the arrests and calls for the release of the journalists and bloggers.
Despite releasing thousands of political prisoners, including journalists, in early 2018, hopes for meaningful reform were tempered when a six-month state of emergency was declared on 16 February. According to reports, the journalists and activists were arrested during a private gathering in Addis Ababa on 25 March 2018. The detained include recently released prominent journalists Nega and Temesghen Desalegn, blogger Zelalem Workagegnehu, as well as Zone 9 bloggers Befekadu Hailu and Mahlet Fantahun, who have been arrested for their journalism in the past. Other political activists were also arrested, including several who had also recently been released from jail.
The authorities have not yet charged the journalists and activists, but reportsindicate that they were arrested for gathering en masse, which is not allowed without permission from the authorities under the state of emergency, and for displaying a prohibited national flag.
Earlier in March 2018, a prominent blogger, Seyoum Teshome, was also arrested.
“The re-arrest of writers such as Eskinder Nega and Zelalem Workagegnehu just over a month after they had been released is a sign that Ethiopia is not serious about reforms,” said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee. “The authorities appear to be using the state of emergency to silence independent voices and unless there is a credible offence, the authorities should release the journalists without delay, especially if their arrest is primarily for what they believe and write.”
The state of emergency was declared following the resignation of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on 15 February, in order to protect the constitution and constitutional order, as well as to ensure the security and stability of the country. A body called the Command Post, led by the prime minister, is responsible for overseeing the state of emergency. The state of emergency contains provisions that restrict the rights to freedom of expression, including a prohibition on criticizing the State of Emergency Proclamation and the Directive, and restricts federal and regional government media outlets from reporting on the state of emergency without permission from the Command Post. Ethiopia was previously under a 10-month state of emergency that ended in August 2017.
For further information, please contact Lianna Merner, Africa Programme Coordinator, PEN International on firstname.lastname@example.org or +442074050338