Friday, December 21, 2012

EU House tells Ethiopia to release jailed blogger

The European Parliament has joined the list of people demanding the release of Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega.
In an open letter to the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Members of the European Parliament (MEP) called for Nega’s immediate release from prison.
Officials from the European Union and the legislators said they had been keenly following the matter, which was not in line with their human rights doctrine.
"The use of vague anti-terror legislation to silence legitimate expression threatens to seriously undermine the credibility of efforts to address real security threats to the region," MEP wrote.
Though MEP were divided on how to relate with the new Desalegn-led government, they agreed that the country’s repressive laws should be reviewed to avoid political unrest.
The blogger was in July this year sentenced to 18 years in prison for violating the country’s anti-terrorism laws and associating with ‘terrorist group’ Ginbot 7.
He was also accused of advocating the idea of a revolution to the public, similar to those that had taken place in neighbouring Arab countries.
EU representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, after the sentencing, spoke of the severity of the sentence and expressed concern that the legislation would greatly affect the freedom of expression in Ethiopia.
When an appeal against the 18-year-jail term came up for hearing Wednesday, an Ethiopian court further delayed it.
Handle criticism
The blogger told the court that he was not a member of Ginbot 7, adding that none of the evidence produced by the prosecution during the trial could link him to it.
The judge said that more time was needed to review the bulky case file and set the hearing date for January 18.
Nega was convicted in June along with Ethiopian opposition leader Andualem Arage and 24 other people.
Five independent journalists, currently exiled and convicted in absentia, were also given jail terms.
Several lobby groups, including the Human rights watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), wrote severally to the deceased Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi asking for the release of
Nega and other journalists who have been prosecuted under the same legislation.
The activists accused the Zenawi-led government of failing to handle criticism as Nega was arrested in September 2011 immediately after publishing an online article that was critical of the arrests that had so far been made under the 2009 antiterrorism legislation.
The CPJ has on several occasions said that Ethiopia had used the law to silence critical and independent reporting as inquisitive journalists were either imprisoned or pushed into exile.
The way Hailemariam and his government handle the matter was likely to determine how the EU will relate with it in future.

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