Thursday, April 23, 2015

One year after arrest Zone 9 bloggers remain imprisoned as trial drags on

CPJ-It will be one year this weekend since six bloggers were arrested in Addis Ababa, just days after the group announced on Facebook that their Zone 9 blog would resume publishing after seven months of inactivity. As the anniversary of the arrests approaches on Saturday, Soleyana S. Gebremichale, one of the Zone 9 founders who was charged in absentia, told me the situation was not hopeless.
"International advocacy is important not only to pressure the Ethiopian government but also to show solidarity for people in prison," Soleyana, who is currently based in Washington, D.C., said. "The words and support that we show them are their strength in prison."
The six Zone 9 bloggers, arrested along with three journalists not connected to the blog, were held in detention until mid-July when a court in Addis Ababa charged all those being held, and Soleyana, with terrorism. Working with human rights organizations and participating in an email encryption training session were among the activities that led to the charges, according to reports. Their charge sheet, translated into English from Amharic, can be found here in full.
The Zone 9 bloggers--Befekadu Hailu, Atnaf Berhane, Natnail Feleke, Mahlet Fantahun, Zelalem Kibret, and Abel Wabella--and three journalists--Edom Kassaye, Tesfalem Waldyes, and Asmamaw Hailegeorgis--have now spent a full year in prison.
Among them is a lawyer and lecturer, an economist, and an IT specialist. One of them is a data expert in Ethiopia's Ministry of Health, another is an engineer for Ethiopian Airlines. They are writers, advocates, and activists, but the Zone 9 bloggers are not terrorists.
According to reports, these young professionals from a range of backgrounds were united by a desire for a more just, transparent, and democratic Ethiopia. The Zone 9 bloggers used their blog, which is still running, as a platform to write about social justice, democracy, and human rights. They spoke out about censorship and challenged corruption.
"Zone 9 existed because we had a hope that we could contribute for the public discourse," Soleyana told me.
The trial has been adjourned 26 times, most recently on April 8, according to a site that tracks its progress. The proceedings are scheduled to resume on May 26. According to the Trial Tracker Blog, which publishes news reports and details of campaigns about Zone 9, police continue to search for evidence to support the charges and failed to provide the defense with access to evidence they allegedly have. A request by the defense for the removal of judge, who the bloggers' lawyer said had been "unfair" throughout the trial, was rejected.
According to the same site, in some instances family and friends were allegedly prevented from entering the courtroom. The nongovernmental organization Ethiopia Human Rights Project reported that "Female detainees could not be visited by friends and relatives" and that when visits were permitted, they were limited to six people only, for a maximum of 20 minutes a day.
Ethiopian officials have repeatedly rejected external criticism of their handling of the Zone 9 case, according to news reports including this piece by The Washington Post. According to the Post, the government denied the bloggers were imprisoned for their writing, and said they were on trial for attempting to sabotage the state. This sentiment was echoed by Communication Affairs Minister Redwan Hussein who, at a press conference in May last year, said of the Zone 9 bloggers, "Most of them are not journalists but activists ... if someone engaged in criminal activities, he will face prosecution regardless of his profession."
Ethiopia, ranked fourth on CPJ's list of the 10 Most Censored Countries, has consistently demonstrated itself to be hostile to the idea of a free press, using charges of terrorism to justify long jail sentences of journalists. In a series of trials documented by CPJ over the past four years, deputy editor of Awramba Times, Woubshet Taye was sentenced to 14 years, freelance writer Eskinder Nega to 18 years, and Feteh journalist Reeyot Alemu to 14 years, reduced to five on appeal. Prison authorities were accused of denying adequate medical attention to Reeyot and Temesghen Desalegn, the owner of Feteh magazine. And in two reports released by Citizen Lab, based at the University of Toronto, researchers said Ethiopia appeared to have used malware and surveillance tools to try to monitor Ethiopian journalists around the world.
Soleyana welcomed international attention to her colleagues' plight. "Though it seems like the impact is slow and sometimes invisible I believe that the international pressure would contribute to change the decision of the Ethiopian government," she said.
Despite international criticism, Ethiopia has been defending its anti-terror laws for years. Speaking to the BBC in 2014, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn defended them as being similar to that of the UK terror laws. In 2012, the then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi defended the laws in Parliament. In response to a critical op-ed by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times, the country's Foreign Ministry argued that Ethiopia did respect press freedom, according to reports.
From Al-Shabab's attack at Garissa in Kenya this month and Boko Haram's relentless violence against Nigerians, to the senseless acts of groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, you don't have to look far to find examples of terrorism across the African continent.
But as former High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed in May last year, in response to Ethiopia's crackdown on the press, "The fight against terrorism cannot serve as an excuse to intimidate and silence journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and members of civil society organizations."
In a statement this week, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, and the UN Special Rapporteur on religious freedom, Heiner Bielefeldt, said: "By actively promoting and protecting human rights, states contribute to preventing terrorism in an effort to address its root causes and risk factors."
At a time when national leaders should be protecting rights and providing reassurance from very real threats like these, many governments choose instead to crush those voices most in need of being heard. This has certainly been true in Ethiopia.
Source: CPJ

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

GAMCOTRAP urges government to outlaw FGM

GAMCOTRAP, women ’s rights NGO working in the area of women and girls has urges the Government of the Gambia to escalate the gains already made in the advocacy by enacting a specific law against FGM.
In a press release issued ahead of the celebration of Zero Tolerance on FGM, GAMCOTRAP said the call is a popular demand from the population who is aware of the negative effects of FGM on women’s health and well-being.
GAMCOTRAP who have been very active and effective in stopping FGM will join the rest of the world to commemorate Zero Tolerance Day on FGM on Saturday. This year’s celebration marked the twelfth commemoration of the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting.
Zero Tolerance Day originated on Feb. 6, 2003, when the first lady of Nigeria, Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, officially declared “Zero Tolerance to FGM” in Africa during a conference organised by the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, a non-governmental network headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since then, this day has been observed around the world.
The theme for 2012 is: “Mobilization and Involvement of Health Personnel to Accelerate Zero Tolerance for FGM.”

“February 6th 2015 is yet another day celebrating an important event calling the attention of the whole world the aim to end violence against women and girl –children,” the statement reads. “The theme is very relevant and important for the health sector to engage in the advocacy to end FGM and promote the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and girl-children.”

Benin: Three journalists banned from presenting news

Three journalists at Benin’s state broadcaster, Office de Radiodiffusion et Television du Benin (ORTB), have been banned from presenting on the television station’s 8pm broadcast.
Ozias Sounouvou, Prévert Noutèhou and Renaud Acakpo told MFWA’s correspondent in Benin that there was an “order from above that their names should be removed from the list of news presenters for the 20 hours news broadcast”. The order was posted in the editorial room February 1, 2015.
The ban of the three journalists follows a statement made by another presenter, Ozias Sounouvou, during the 11:30pm edition on January 12.
While presenting the news, Sounouvou called out the President of Benin, Yayi Boni, for participating in a press freedom march in Paris following the Charlie Hebdo attacks while in his own country, people cannot exercise the right to freedom of expression.

Monday, December 1, 2014


Momodou Sabally
The Standard-Two days after he was granted bail by a high court judge, Momodou Sabally, the former secretary general and minister of presidential affairs has finally been released from Mile 2 Central Prison last evening.
Earlier yesterday his lawyer, Antouman Gaye, confirmed  to The Standard . “Yes, he is [still] in custody because we are still trying to fulfill the bail conditions.”  
Sabally, 40, was granted bail on Tuesday, four months and three weeks after he was arrested for allegedly causing economic loss to the state.
He was to be released on bail on furnishing a personal bond in the sum of D1.5 million with one surety for the like amount to the satisfaction of the court.

Rural poverty in The Gambia

Rural women deserve more than simple recognition most vulnerable groups in the rural parts of The Gambia are women, children and the elderly, as well as ethnic minorities who live in remote areas. The majority of these women continue to play a subservient role. Despite being the hardest hit, they contribute to the well-being of their families and the development of rural economies. 
And despite their efforts in providing food for their family, they have little or no say in the way the family spends its income. Women form more than 50 percent of the Gambian population and yet they are the poorest. 
Like women all over the world, most Gambian women must work as a matter of economic necessity, combining motherhood and child care with labour in the fields, or working as household domestic, market vendors and traders. 
The Gambia remains predominantly agricultural. The increasing migration of rural male labourers to urban areas has sharply extended the feminisation of rural labour and agriculture. Subsistence farming is largely a female activity owing to the historical migration of men to the towns. This is a trend that is still going on. Like in many of the world's poorer countries, these women play a vital role in the rural economy. They are involved in crop production and livestock care, provide food and water for their families, and carry out other activities to diversify their families' livelihood. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Zeid criticizes harsh legal amendment, violence and arrests targeting gay men and lesbians in The Gambia

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Thursday criticized a recent amendment to the Criminal Code of The Gambia that creates a broad and vague offence of "aggravated homosexuality" punishable by He also expressed alarm at reports of a wave of arbitrary arrests and detention of individuals perceived to be homosexual in The Gambia.

The amendment to the Criminal Code was approved by the National Assembly earlier this year and signed into law by the President on 9 October 2014. It targets, among others, so-called "serial offenders" (meaning individuals with a previous conviction for homosexuality), persons living with HIV, and consensual same-sex partners of persons with disabilities – all of whom could be imprisoned for life. The new law replicates a section of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act denounced by the former High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Secretary-General and the African Commission Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.

“This law violates fundamental human rights – among them the right to privacy, to freedom from discrimination and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention. It adds to the stigma and abuses that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people already face in The Gambia,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Gambia: UN human rights team prevented from completing torture and killing investigations

The United Nations Special Rapporteurs Christof Heyns and Juan Méndez have been prevented from completing a torture and killing investigation during the first visit ever to The Gambia by experts of the independent fact-finding mechanism of the Human Rights Council Special Procedures.

The two UN human rights experts carried out an official mission* to the country to examine the current level of protection of the right to life in law and in practice, and assess the situation and identify challenges regarding torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in The Gambia, among other things. 

In a remarkable and encouraging step, the Gambian Government invited the two UN Special Rapporteurs earlier this year to conduct a joint visit from 3 to 7 November 2014.

Unfortunately, and despite a written agreement accepting the Terms of Reference of the two mandates, once the investigators arrived, the Government denied them access to certain sections of the first prison the two mandate holders attempted to visit. They offered instead a guided tour to parts of the prison, informing that under no circumstances would they be allowed to visit the Security Wing, where inter alia the death row prisoners are held.