CPJ concerned about prison conditions for two journalists

August 23, 2006

His Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
C/O The Embassy of Ethiopia
3506 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Via facsimile: 202-587-0199

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about prison conditions for journalists Eskinder Nega and Sisay Agena, who CPJ sources say are suffering from harsh treatment and deprivation without judicial review.

The two had been held with at least 13 other journalists in Kality Prison, near Addis Ababa, since November 2005. However, Nega was moved at the end of July and Agena on August 19 to Karchele Prison, according to CPJ sources. They are said to be kept with two other prisoners in a small, unsanitary cell and allowed only limited bathroom breaks. Their access to visitors is heavily restricted, CPJ sources said. Some sources said they fear the two may be deprived of light and adequate drinking water.

In addition, Nega is denied the opportunity to see his wife and fellow imprisoned journalist, Serkalem Fassil. Fassil gave birth to their son in June and remains jailed in Kality, despite pleas from CPJ and other human rights groups for her release on humanitarian grounds.

Nega, owner of the banned Amharic weeklies Menilik, Asqual, and Satenaw, and Agena, owner of Ethiop, are on trial with dozens of opposition leaders, journalists, and civil society activists for alleged antistate crimes related to post-electoral riots last year. Their trial began in February but was adjourned this month until early October. The adjournment means that the journalists have no opportunity to raise concerns in court about prison conditions. Nor is their health evident to the public.

You may recall that you met in March with a delegation from CPJ, which was allowed to meet with the imprisoned journalists. You were receptive to our appeals for improvements in detention conditions, and you promised that the journalists would be treated fairly.

We believe that all journalists imprisoned for their work in Ethiopia should be freed. At minimum, they should be guaranteed humane conditions and a fair trial within a reasonable period of time. We respectfully request more information as to why Nega and Agena have been separated from the other prisoners and have been subjected to harsh conditions.

We appeal to your excellency to ensure that the prison conditions of Eskinder Nega and Sisay Agena, as well as all the other imprisoned journalists, comply with basic international norms. Minimum standards set down by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, for example, require that prisoners be granted adequate space, sanitation, lighting, food, and water. They further state that prisoners should not be punished without being given an explanation and the opportunity to defend themselves.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.


Joel Simon