Jailed Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu has been told by Kality prison authorities not to be visited by anyone apart from her parents and priest, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported this week.
This decision constitutes harassment and runs counter to the Ethiopian constitution, the New York-based media watchdog said in a statement. “We call upon the Ethiopian authorities to lift these latest restrictions and allow Reeyot to receive all visitors,” CPJ East Africa consultant Tom Rhodes said.
“She is a journalist, not a criminal, and should not be behind bars.”
Reeyot, a critical columnist of the banned private weekly Feteh, is serving a 14-year prison term on vague terrorism charges that was reduced in August 2012 to five years on appeal.
The journalist began a hunger strike on Wednesday to protest the restrictions, CPJ said, adding that the officials did not provide an explanation for the request.
Two days later, prison officials said she could receive any visitors except for her younger sister and her fiancé, journalist Sileshi Hagos.
Sileshi was detained for four hours at the prison later that day when he attempted to visit Reeyot.
She eventually stopped the hunger strike on Sunday, but decided not to receive any visitors until the restrictions on her fiancé and sister were lifted.
It was not immediately clear whether the visitor restrictions were in connection with an article published by the International Women’s Media Foundation last month that had been written by Reeyot.
It is unclear if the journalist wrote the letter from prison or if this was a translation of an earlier story. In the article, Reeyot criticises Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law, an overbroad legislation that was used to jail and convict her for her critical coverage of the government.
Kality Prison director Abraham Wolde-Aregay did not respond to CPJ’s calls and text messages for comment. Desalegn Teresa, spokesman for Ethiopia’s ministry of justice, did not return CPJ’s call for comment.
The dictatorial Ethiopian government, a close ally of the US and European Union, has been described by analysts as one of the world’s most hostile regimes towards independent media.
Ethiopia, alongside Djibouti, jungle Somalia and terrorism sponsor Eritrea, are considered as dangerous territories in the Horn of Africa for free journalists to work in.
Photo: Jailed Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu. Credit: ECADF