July 10, 2015 – The IWMF celebrates the early release of Ethiopian journalist and 2012 IWMF Courage in Journalism Award winner Reeyot Alemu. Alemu, a reporter and columnist, has been imprisoned since 2011 for allegedly violating Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
“The IWMF is thrilled to learn of Reeyot’s release; her imprisonment during the past four years has been a grave injustice,” said IWMF Executive Director Elisa Lees Muñoz. “We hope this signals an abatement to the Ethiopian government’s oppression of the press.”
Alemu was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2012: this term was later reduced to five years. During her detention, Alemu spent 13 days in solitary confinement for her refusal to admit guilt and provide information on fellow journalists. During her incarceration, she was periodically denied medical treatment and had her visitation rights revoked, but she remained steadfast in her claims of innocence.
For her bravery and commitment to press freedom, Alemu was named an IWMF Courage Award winner in 2012. The following year, she won the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
In the months before her arrest, Alemu reported on land rights, government corruption, and a controversial government-sponsored dam project. She was slandered in state-run media, and she received phone calls threatening her safety.
Five journalists and bloggers arrested in April of this year under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation were also released on July 8, 2015. This news comes a couple of weeks before the visit of President Obama, who will travel to Ethiopia later this month for bilateral meetings with leaders of Ethiopia and the African Union. He will be the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country.
Ethiopia has the second-highest number of jailed journalists after notoriously oppressive Eritrea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is a vaguely worded and broad reaching anti-terrorism law passed by the Ethiopian legislature in 2009. The law criminalizes speech and expression thought to encourage parties labeled as terrorists. It has led to the arrest of journalists, religious leaders, and opposition politicians.