Pambazuka – Reeyot Alemu: Honoring one of Africa’s bravest women in journalism

Her principled stance for truth and justice in defiance of government and injustice, has earned her international accolades. You can join the campaign for her release
Reeyot Alemu
Reeyot Alemu

As the world has been reaffirming its commitment to women’s empowerment this month, one of Africa’s bravest female journalists reached a sad milestone behind bars in Ethiopia: Reeyot Alemu has now spent more than 1000 days in jail for simply doing her job. She is among eight journalists imprisoned in Ethiopia, Africa’s second worst jailer of journalists after Eritrea.

Reeyot’s principled stance for truth and justice in defiance of government intimidation and injustice, has earned her international accolades such as the UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award, and as a finalist for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. In January 2014, more than 500 people, including leading journalists from all over the world such as Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, Ferial Haffajee, Chair of the Chair of the independent judging panel of the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Competition, and Betty Dindi, Managing Editor of the Nation Media Group in Kenya, among many others, such as Mia Farrow and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in New York Samantha Powers joined the [url= call]https://www.thunderclap.it/en/projects/8039-a-birthday-wish-for-reeyot]call for her release[/url].

Pambazuka – Reeyot Alemu: Honoring one of Africa’s bravest women in journalism.Celebrate women’s history month by honoring Reeyot Alemu’s courage:

WHAT YOU CAN DO

• Watch the VIDEO: Journalism Under Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Law
• Sign the petition demanding the release of Reeyot
• On twitter, express your solidarity and support using the hashtag #ReeyotAlemu or retweet this
• On Facebook, post a message expressing your solidarity
• Publish a FREE REEYOT ALEMU banner on your website.
• Read a report on press freedom conditions in Ethiopia:
• Read Reeyot’s profile by the International Women’s Media Foundation
• Read Reeyot’s article: Anti-Terrorism Proclamation: Born From Power Thirst
BACKGROUND

A columnist for several Amharic-language newspapers, Reeyot Alemu was one of the first journalists arrested in a 2011 government crackdown on dissent as authorities in Addis Ababa, unnerved by the Arab Spring revolutions, rounded up prominent journalists, intellectuals and political opponents and linked them to a vague terrorism plot – allegedly to attack infrastructure, telecommunications, and power lines in the country. Before her arrest, Reeyot had been writing columns in which she expressed indignation at the social injustices suffered by ordinary Ethiopians as a result of the ruling EPRDF’s ever-tightening stranglehold on power and public institutions. She had also criticized the party’s coercive tactics and the use of anti-terrorism legislation to conflate dissent with terrorism.

Reeyot was detained for several weeks at the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center, a police facility in Addis Ababa where interrogators routinely use torture and beatings to extract false confessions from detainees, according to Human Rights Watch. While in pre-trial detention, interrogators offered her clemency if she signed a false confession and testified against co-defendants. She refused and was charged with “promotion or communication of a terrorist act,” “possessing properties for terrorists acts,” and “planning and conspiring a terrorist act” under Ethiopia’s sweeping Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, several UN Special Rapporteurs, the UN Human Rights Council, and the African Commission on Peoples and Human Rights have condemned the law’s overbroad and far-reaching provisions which criminalize any reporting that the government deems favorable to groups and causes it labels as “terrorists.” This includes reporting on the banned political opposition party Ginbot 7 and two rebel groups.

As evidence for the charges, government prosecutors presented more than 25 of Reeyot’s newspaper articles, as well as emails and communications it had intercepted between her and pro-opposition news sites based abroad. Prosecutors also produced witnesses whom Reeyot said she had never seen or known. An Ethiopian High Court judge convicted Reeyot of all charges and sentenced her to 14 years in prison. Her sentence was reduced to 5 years on appeal but she is pursuing an international appeal at the African Human Rights Commission.

The U.S. State Department described the judicial proceedings against her as “politically-motivated.” In a March 2013 report, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment ruled that her imprisonment violates international law.

RESOURCES

Media Legal Defence Initiative (Reeyot’s international lawyers)
London, UK
Contacts:
Nani Jansen, Senior Legal Counsel, +44 207 324 4675, nani.jansen@mediadefence.org
Peter Noorlander, Legal Director, peter.noorlander@mediadefence.org

International Women’s Media Foundation
Washington, D.C.
Contact:
Anna Schiller, Communications Strategist: aschiller@iwmf.org

A Safer World for Women International Foundation
London, UK
Contacts:
Chris Crowstaff, Trustee and Founder: chris.crowstaff@asafeworldforwomen.org
Andrew Sampson, technical manager: andrew.sampson@asafeworldforwomen.org

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
New York, Nairobi, Abuja, Cape Town
Contact:
Sue Valentine, Africa Program Coordinator, svalentine@cpj.org

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