The Media Legal Defence Initiative, MLDI, has launched a fundraising campaign to support its bid to free Ethiopian journalists, Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu.
MLDI has appealed to the African Commission to declare that Reeyot and Eskinder’s conviction under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorist laws breaches their human rights, as well as stop the abuse of anti-terror laws to silence journalists.
The appeal to the African Commission was filed on behalf of Nega and Alemu by MLDI’s senior legal counsel, Nani Jansen, Patrick Griffith of Freedom Now, and Korieh Duodu.
They have asked the African Commission to refer their cases to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ACHPR, the main human rights tribunals at the African Union, as part of a series of massive or serious violations of human rights.
“We hope that the African Commission will recognise the serious nature of the violations of the rights of both these, and other, journalists in Ethiopia and refer the matter to the African Court. Critical comment on political matters should never be considered as supporting or encouraging terrorist activity,” Jansen said.
However, while the legal team give their time and expertise for free, they are soliciting for funds to enable them cover the costs of attending hearings, translating numerous legal documents and other court-related expenses.
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Nega, a journalist for the now-defunct political magazine, Change, is serving an 18-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges.
He was arrested in September 2011 after publishing a column that questioned the Ethiopian government’s claim that a number of journalists it had detained were suspected terrorists; he also criticised the arrest of well-known Ethiopian actor and government critic, Debebe Eshetu.
During his trial, the judge reportedly accused Nega of using “the guise of freedom” to “attempt to incite violence and overthrow the constitutional order,” claiming that Nega wanted to spark a popular revolt in the style of the Arab Spring.
Nega was also accused of having links with Ginbot 7, a group regarded as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian authorities.
Nega was previously jailed along with his wife, journalist Serkalem Fasil, between 2005 and 2007 on treason charges for their coverage of protests that followed the 2005 legislative elections.
Alemu, a contributor to the independent weekly Feteh, is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence, reduced to five years on appeal in August 2012 after most of the terrorism charges against her were dropped.
Her arrest on June 21, 2011 was thought to be related to her articles criticising the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF party’s public fundraising methods for the Abay Dam project, and drew parallels between then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, now deceased, and the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Alemu, since her conviction in January 2012, has been allegedly subjected to ill-treatment in prison, including being denied access to medical treatment and visitors even though she is diagnosed to have breast tumour and also suffers from chronic gastritis and sinusitis.