Countdown to WPFD 2014: IFJ Open Letter Helps Prompt Kerry Action in Ethiopia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has welcomed the news that U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, raised his concerns about Ethiopia's detention of six bloggers and three journalists during a meeting with the country's prime minister yesterday, Thursday 1 May.

On Wednesday 30 April, the day before Kerry’s visit, the IFJ sent an open letter urging him to raise the ordeal of the imprisoned journalists and bloggers with Ethiopian authorities during his visit to the country. 

According to media reports, Kerry said he raised the arrests during meetings with Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, and Foreign Minister, Tedros Adhanom, in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, where he kicked off an African tour.

The three journalists and six bloggers were arrested last Friday, 25 April, and Saturday, 26 April. They are accused of using social media to create instability in the country and collaborating with international human rights organisations. They are being held in the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector ‘Maikelawi’ and made their first appearance in court in Addis Ababa last Sunday, 27 April. The case was adjourned until May 7 and 8.

The open letter, signed by IFJ President, Jim Boumelha, advises the Secretary of State the Ethiopia is Africa’s second worst jailer of journalists after Eritrea and the country’s government continues to ignore calls made by a range of organisations demanding that it releases journalists in prison.

For many years the IFJ has been protesting against the crackdown on press freedom in Ethiopia, and the letter states that the Federation has campaigned for the releases of many jailed journalists, including award winning columnists, Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu, both of whom were jailed under the country's sweeping anti-terrorism law, and more recently, Somali journalist Mohamed Aweys Mudey, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison. 

The letter says: “We are sure, Mr Secretary, that you will agree with us that a free and vibrant media is the best guarantee of stability and development and the interest of your country will best be served by allies whose stability is based on democratic rule.”

It concludes: “The IFJ would be grateful if you would raise the issue of journalists currently in jail with the Ethiopian governments and join us in requesting they are released, and for their colleagues to be able to work freely and openly without fear of reprisal.”

The journalists who have been arrested are Tesfalem Weldeyest, who writes independent commentary on political issues for Ethiopia’s Addis Standard magazine and Addis Fortune newspaper, Asmamaw Hailegiorgis, senior editor at an influential Amharic weekly magazine Addis Guday, and Edom Kassaye, who previously worked at state daily Addis Zemen Newspaper and isan active member of the Ethiopian Environmental Journalists Association (EEJA).

The group of bloggers are reportedly members of the Zone 9 group, which is known to be very critical of government policy. They have a strong following on social media. They are: Atnaf Berahane, Befegadu Hailu, Mahlet Fantahun, Natnael Feleke, Abel Wabela and Zelalem Kiberet.  

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 17                       

The IFJ represents more than 600 000 journalists in 134 countries