UN panel: Eskinder Nega jailing violates international law

By Tom Rhodes/CPJ East Africa Consultant on April 5, 2013 2:35 PM ET

Authorities in Ethiopia describe Eskinder Nega, a prominent columnist and government critic jailed since September 2011 on vague terrorism charges, as a dangerous individual bent on violent revolution. However, in an opinion handed down in 2012--publicized only this week by Washington, D.C.-based legal advocacy group Freedom Now--a United Nations panel of five independent experts ruled that Eskinder's imprisonment came "as a result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression."

The opinion from the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was issued after a judge in Addis Ababa sentenced Eskinder to 18 years in prison in July 2012, accusing him of writing "articles that incited the public to bring the North African and Arab uprisings to Ethiopia." In the opinion, the experts detailed several breaches of Eskinder's rights, from his arrest without warrant and allegations of mistreatment in pre-trial detention, to a flawed prosecution and trial that fell short of international standards of fairness.

"It is our sincere hope that the government will look closely at the opinion and come to the same conclusion as the Working Group," Patrick Griffith, an attorney with Freedom Now, told me. "The opinion here is especially well-reasoned and clearly explains why the continued detention of Eskinder is a violation of international law; it is now up to the government to do the right thing and release him."

The opinion, however, is not binding, and Ethiopian authorities have a notoriously tough hide when it comes to international criticism of their human rights record--despite being major recipients of Western aid. Griffith is still optimistic, saying: "Pressure can have an impact on the ground; the release of political prisoners in 2007 (following mass arrests in 2005) and the release of the Swedish journalists last year came after considerable international attention--so there is hope." Griffith says Freedom Now will urge governments, especially that of the United States, to more forcefully insist on Eskinder's release. Griffith also hopes that by vigorously pursuing Eskinder's case, the group can train more global attention on other Ethiopian journalists in prison. There are currently six journalists behind bars, some without charge.

Prior to his arrest, Eskinder had criticized authorities for carrying out such practices, claiming that the government used a sweeping anti-terror law to scare critics of the ruling party into silence. "In the well-publicized applications of the dreaded anti-terrorism law lies the perfect means to stretch fear to its furthest limit. Raw fear is in the air. And journalists have been affected the most," Eskinder wrote in a July 2011 column entitled "SOS: Dissent and terrorism in Ethiopia."

As a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Ethiopia should comply with international law and release Eskinder immediately and unconditionally.


Please stay away of Ethiopia's internal affair.Foreigners keep your dirty finger away and leave Ethiopia to Ethiopians .There are so many things happening in the west and right about that.Right about Mr.Assang who is still hiding in Embassy in London surrounded by British Police. What did this guy do ? nothing ,just expression of speech and look in how much trouble he is now. So many things like this you should right about.Even the West you boast about are suppressors of expression.

I strongly support the idea & want kindly forward my openion to the Ethiopian government to reconsider the decision & respect the rights of the nation as well respect international low .
Peace for all

i am support the idea ....tnx

Good that you are working hard to maintain International Human Rights.Under this context you mentioned that the Ethiopian Authorities should free Eskinder Nega in order for Ethiopia to receive foreign aid. This is absolutely funny. What about the law and order of the country? What about the safety of the entire population?Over all, what about the stability of the government which safeguards the benefits of the people? Are you fully aware had this guy continued spreading divisive and poisonous propaganda there certainly would have existed conflicts followed by blood sheds, and this is what you are dreaming to take place in that peaceful part of the world. We therefore, urge you to stay away from such evil ideas and let us manage our own affairs.

In such examples, you are not protecting the rights of the people, as you lose ground the dangerous consequence that could take place by remnant elements from the old regime such as Nega.

Thanks CPJ,
Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, Woubshet Taye, Solomon Kebede, Shiferaw Insarmu and thousands of Ethiopian prisoners of conscious are being incarcerated for no other crime than exercising their rights enshrined by Article 19 of the Ethiopian constitution. Anti-terrorism law is a pretext to silence dissenting views and instil fear among the general public whose daily life is deteriorating due to corruption, malgoverance, nepotism, and poorly crafted policies of the regime in power. 21 years of impunity is ENOUGH; democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression & association, etc are our birthrights as any one everywhere in the world. The UN, AU, EU and other backers should put pressure on Ethiopia's ruling party to release all political prisoners unconditionally and immediately thereby create an open dialogue with all concerned Ethiopian individuals and organizations to avoid the looming danger on the horizon.
Theodros Arega,
Stockholm, Sweden.


Although you have a point, it is a shame on you that, instead of fighting or blaming the wrong you try to justify it by another wrong.
What do you feel if the victim is your beloved, family or your close relative? Do you feel or say the same??

Pls. think wisely and fairly. Ethiopia is a home to all of us not for few HODAMS!

The Ethiopian government is good in law and order,partly. If you don't talk bad about the government, there is room for living peacefully. The soldiers are very disciplined (especially those nice soldiers that chased away Mengistu). The construction is good, and people support that. But the Police is corrupt. The civil service is extremely bad. The cadres within the government are hungry beasts that are ready to robe the general populace.
Ethiopains are tired of civil war, they pray not to see another war, therefore they criticize the government cautiously, upto the point of overlooking some of the misdeeds they see everyday. But the government, run by rebels (and as such by the minority) , is a smart fearmonger, an ugly arrogant, very disconnected from the reality on the ground (live on denying what its sees right infront of its eyes, every minute of everyday). Inflation is eating into the hard won little income of the people. When the market fails to go with the governments plan, the traders small shops are closed; the government immediately finds a scapegoat. Inept and confusing laws are passed to control the market. The government dogs (well known 'undercover' operators)kill with impunity. The murder of the Oromo musician, Ebisa (I am not sure of his name), is one good example. Criticizing the government is forbidden by law; if one dare do so, one is considered a terrorist and incarcerated. Eskinder is one of those unlucky Ethiopian with good conscience, who couldn't overlook the actions of the dysfunctional government.

Our ideals are our better selves.

Dear CPJ personnel,
I would have been angry if there was a kind of government that you could twist its hand. I'm happy that you will continue living dreaming. You CANNOt colonize us! Go hell with your aid and dead ideology!
Long live Ethiopia.

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