[Congressional Record Volume 158, Number 90 (Thursday, June 14, 2012)]
[Senate]
[Page S4200]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                      ETHIOPIAN FREE PRESS ASSAULT

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, later this month, I and other Members of 
Congress will be watching what happens in a courtroom 7,000 miles from 
Washington, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  That is where a journalist named Eskinder Nega stands accused of 
supporting terrorism simply for refusing to remain silent about the 
Ethiopian government's increasingly authoritarian drift. The trial is 
finished, and a verdict is expected on June 21.
  Mr. Eskinder is not alone. Since 2011, the Ethiopian government has 
charged 10 other journalists with terrorism or threatening national 
security for questioning government actions and policies--activities 
that you and I and people around the world would recognize as 
fundamental to any free press. Ironically, by trying to silence those 
who do not toe the official line, the government is only helping to 
underscore the concerns that many inside and outside of Ethiopia share 
about the deterioration of democracy and human rights in that country.
  Ethiopia is an important partner for the United States in at least 
two key areas: containing the real threat of terrorism in the region, 
and making gains against the region's recurring famines and fostering 
the kind of development that can bring the cycle of poverty and hunger 
to an end. The United States has provided large amounts of assistance 
in furtherance of both goals, because a stable, democratic Ethiopia 
could exert a positive influence throughout the Horn of Africa and help 
point the way to a more peaceful and prosperous future.
  That is why President Obama invited Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to 
last month's G 8 Summit at Camp David. The subject was food security, 
and Prime Minister Meles and the leaders of several other African 
countries helped inaugurate a new public-private alliance for nutrition 
that aims to increase agricultural production and lift 50 million 
people out of poverty in the next 10 years. I can think of nothing that 
will do more to further peace and prosperity of the region than this 
kind of targeted, practical, and cooperative initiative.
  But initiatives like this depend for their success on broad national 
consultation, transparency and accountability. Consultation to 
integrate ideas from diverse perspectives, transparency to maintain 
partner confidence that their investment is reaching its targets, and 
accountability to ensure it produces the desired results. And 
transparency and accountability depend, in no small part, on a free 
press.
  In Ethiopia, that means enabling journalists like Eskinder Nega to do 
their work of reporting and peaceful political participation.
  But seven times in Prime Minister Meles's 20-year rule, Mr. Eskinder 
has been detained for his reporting. In 2005, he and his journalist 
wife Serkalem Fasil were imprisoned for reporting on protests following 
that year's disputed national elections. They spent 17 months in 
prison, their newspapers were shut down, and Mr. Eskinder has been 
denied a license to practice journalism ever since. Yet he carried on, 
publishing articles online that highlight the government's denial of 
human rights and calling for an end to political repression and 
corruption.
  In some of those articles, Mr. Eskinder specifically criticized the 
Meles government for misusing a vaguely-worded 2009 antiterrorism law 
to jail journalists and political opponents. Now he stands accused of 
terrorism. At his trial, which opened in Addis Ababa on March 6, the 
government reportedly offered as evidence against him a video of a town 
hall meeting in which Mr. Eskinder discusses the Arab spring and 
speculates on whether similar protests were possible in Ethiopia. If 
convicted, he could face the death penalty.
  The trial of Eskinder Nega, the imprisonment of several of his 
colleagues on similar spurious charges, and the fact that Ethiopia has 
driven so many journalists into exile over the last decade has eroded 
confidence in Prime Minister Meles' commitment to press freedom and to 
other individual liberties that are guaranteed by the Ethiopian 
constitution and fundamental to any democracy.
  The United States and Ethiopia share important interests, and the 
administration's fiscal year 2013 budget requests $350 million in 
assistance for Ethiopia. However, to the extent that any of that 
assistance is intended for the Ethiopian government, the importance of 
respecting freedom of the press cannot be overstated. What happens to 
Mr. Eskinder and other journalists there will resonate loudly not only 
in Ethiopia, but also in the United States Congress.

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