April 3, 2013 -- According to reliable sources in Addis Ababa, imprisoned journalist Reeyot Alemu, a columnist for the now-defunct newspaper Feteh and winner of the IWMF's 2012 Courage in Journalism Award, has been threatened by prison authorities with two months of solitary confinement as well as denial of family visits, legal counsel and medical care.
Earlier this week, officials of Ethiopia's infamous Kaliti prison, where Alemu has been serving the majority of her 5-year prison sentence since her arrest on June 21, 2011, accused her of "disrespecting prison policies" and "planning to share information on human rights violations in Kaliti prison with the media". Prison authorities are currently reviewing the accusations and have threatened to punish her with two months solitary confinement, as well as denying her family visits, legal counsel and access to prison services, including medial care, for four months.
This is not the first time that prison authorities have created obstacles to restrict the independent journalist's access to medial care. In April of 2012, Alemu underwent surgery at a nearby hospital to remove a tumor from her breast, after which she was returned to jail with no recovery time.
In February 2013, Alemu was again diagnosed with a growth in her breast. Doctors recommended immediate treatment for the growth, but Alemu has been consistently denied access to care.
Sources also told the IWMF that prison officials had granted Alemu permission to enroll in a distance-learning program at Indra Ghandi National Open University where she was planning to pursue a Master's Degree in Political Science, starting this month. Now, prison authorities have revoked their permission, forcing Alemu to forfeit the enrollment fee of $1,500.
Reeyot Alemu worked as a columnist for independent Ethiopian newspaper Feteh until her arrest in June 2011. She was held without charge until September of that year, when she was accused of "conspiracy to commit terrorist acts" and "participation in a terrorist organization". The Ethiopian government presented articles Alemu wrote criticizing its actions as evidence at her trial, as well as telephone conversations she had regarding strictly peaceful protests. Based on these materials alone, a judge sentenced Alemu to 14 years in prison.
An appeals court subsequently reduced the 14-year prison sentence to five years and dropped most of the terrorism charges against her. Prior to these events, Alemu was one of her country’s only female reporters who wrote critically about the political climate in Ethiopia.
Freedom Now, a non-profit organization that represents individual prisoners of conscience as pro-bono clients, reported last week that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found the government of Ethiopia’s continued detention of independent Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, whose case shares many similarities with Alemu's, a violation of international law. A panel of five independent experts held that the government violated Nega’s rights to free expression and due process.