At AU summit, Kerry should speak out for a free press

May 16, 2013

Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing to bring to your attention the deteriorating state of press freedom in Ethiopia, where you will attend this year’s African Union Summit. A vibrant press and civil society is fundamental to hold governments accountable and to ensure long-term development and stability. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity, we ask that you include the issue of press freedom in your discussion of the challenges that Africa will face in the next half-century.

Ethiopia, in particular, has been in the spotlight for its crackdown on press freedom in recent years. Your visit to Addis Ababa comes two years after authorities launched a massive crackdown against critics and opponents as popular uprisings spread in North Africa and the Middle East. According to the 2012 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, “the most significant human rights problems included restrictions on freedom of expression and association through politically motivated trials and convictions of opposition political figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers, as well as increased restrictions on print media.”

Today, with seven journalists behind bars, Ethiopia trails only Eritrea as Africa’s worst jailers of the press. Among the imprisoned journalists are award-winning columnists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu, both of whom were targeted under the country’s sweeping anti-terrorism law.

Mr. Secretary, in its Africa strategy the Obama administration has noted that the interests of the United States are best served with allies and partners whose stability is based on democratic rule. Your clear voice on these issues would particularly resonate in Ethiopia, where a systematic crackdown on independent journalists, dissidents, human rights groups, and political freedoms has continued unabated.

We urge you to state unambiguously to the Ethiopian government and all other governments gathered under the AU umbrella that a vibrant independent press is a necessary pillar of healthy economies, sustainable development, and long-term stability. We ask that you ensure the issue of press freedom remains in the discussion of Africa’s future so that the independent press in all AU countries are able to work freely and openly without fear of reprisal.

Yours sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director

Cc List:

Donald Yamamoto, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of African Affairs

Donald Boothe, U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia