New York (TADIAS) – In a wide-ranging interview with France24 this week, Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn energetically fielded a number of questions in his role as the current chairman of the African Union about the continent’s troubled spots, including the situation in Mali, the elections in Kenya, the prospect of peace in Somalia, and the border issue with Eritrea. But when the topic changed to domestic matters and the imprisoned Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu, winner of the 2013 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize, so did the tone of the Prime Minister.
“For us our due process of law is, you know, according to the international standard and practice and we will continue on this way whether whoever says it,” he said. “What matters is the peace, security and democracy in the country, rather than what somebody says.”
Reeyot, who is now 32-year-old, was arrested in June 2011 inside a high-school class room where she worked as an English teacher. She was wanted for her opposing views in her part-time job as a columnist for the then Amharic weekly Feteh. She is currently serving a five year sentence in Kality prison. UNESCO said last week that she was recommended for the prestigious award by an independent international jury of media professionals in recognition of her “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.”
“The whole important thing in this issue is that rule of law is one of the pillars of democratic process in the country,” the PM told the French television station, without mentioning Reeyot by name. “So we have responsibility also not only to have, you know, any kind of issues in the country, but to secure our people from any kind of terrorist actions.”
Hailemariam added: “In this regard, I think what’s important is that we are following all the international standard including the UN charter for human rights and democracy, which we have signed and ratified in my country. So I think it is according to the international, universal declarations that we are operating in the country.”
“Do you think there is room for improvement?” the reporter for France24 asked. “Do you agree that things could be better in this regard that there should be more vibrant press and a more vibrant opposition to make Ethiopia a real and full democracy?”
“I think there is no doubt about it,” the PM said. “Not only in Ethiopia, even in much more civilized democratic nations like France you have always something to improve. So how can we say there is no need of improvement in a fledgling democracy and a democracy of only fifteen years of age.”
The PM argued that establishing a culture of democracy takes time. “Therefore, we have a fledgling democracy, we have to learn lots of things, there are a number of rooms for improvement, including, the press, media and all kind of things,” he said. “We are learning from the international practices and my government is open to learn and improve things at home.”
The UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded annually during the celebration of World Press Freedom Day on May 3rd, which will take place this year in Costa Rica. The UNESCO jury highlighted Reeyot’s critical writing published in several independent Ethiopian newspapers on various political and social issues focusing on poverty and gender equality.
We urge Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to do the right thing for Ethiopia and exercise his authority under the constitution to pardon Reeyot Alemu.