To mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, Ethiopia’s record of imprisoning, persecuting and otherwise harassing journalists is being put in the spotlight with an appeal to UNESCO to take action in a way it has never done before. Last year, more journalists fled into exile from Ethiopia than from any other country.
On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, MLDI will present a landmark complaint to UNESCO asking it to take action in a way it has never done before.
The complaint says that since an Anti-Terrorism Proclamation was made in 2009 at least 100 cases have been brought against independent journalists and other oppositional voices in the country. MLDI is asking UNESCO to declare this a systematic policy of violating the rights of journalists and to publicly hold the Ethiopian government to account.
MLDI has particularly documented the cases of 11 journalists who were charged with terrorist activities in 2011, including the journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, who was recently awarded the PEN Freedom to Write award. Nearly all were arrested just after publishing articles critical of the government or while conducting journalistic investigations, and the “evidence” in their trials was simply what they had written or the material they had gathered for their work. Sentences have varied from 11 years in prison to life.
“These prosecutions amount to a systematic violation of the right to freedom of expression in Ethiopia, which is among the worst jailers of journalists in the world”, said MLDI chief executive, Peter Noorlander. “UNESCO has a specific mandate to protect this right and it is promoting a Plan of Action urging States to uphold it.”
In its approach to UNESCO the MLDI is invoking for the first time a procedure whereby, instead of its normal practice of handling individual complaints on a confidential basis, the world body can refer a country’s overall conduct to its General Conference and publicly hold it to account. MLDI's submission asks UNESCO to call on Ethiopia to release the imprisoned journalists, annul their convictions and stop misusing its anti-terrorism law.