U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry who arrived in Ethiopia on Wednesday April 30, as part of his seven-day trip through Africa said he had raised concerns about the recent detention of six bloggers and three journalists during a meeting with Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn.
The bloggers – part of a group called Zone 9 and the journalists were arrested last week and accused with attempting to incite violence.
The government has said the charges relate to “serious criminal activities” and have nothing to do with muzzling the media.
Kerry during a press conference he held on Thursday May 1, said he raised the arrests during meetings with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom.
He said he met one of the bloggers – Natnael Feleke – during a visit last year and brought up his case on Thursday.
“When I raised him by name in my comments today I am raising a very legitimate concern. We are concerned about any imprisoned journalist, here or anywhere else,” said Kerry.
“We believe that it is very important that the full measure of the constitution be implemented and that we should not use the anti-terrorism proclamations as mechanisms to be able to curb the free exchange of ideas,” he said.
The journalists and bloggers made their first appearance in court on Sunday April 27 and the case was adjourned until May 7 and 8.
Kerry also said his discussion with PM Halemariam Desalegn had touched on human rights and cooperation in healing the conflict in South Sudan and in the region.
In a related development Kerry on Friday May 2 went to South Sudan carrying threats of U.S. sanctions against prominent South Sudanese leaders if the rampant violence doesn’t stop. But more than anything, he sought to compel authorities on both sides of the fight to put aside personal and tribal animosities for the good of a nation that declared independence three years ago to escape decades of war.
Now, South Sudan is engulfed in widespread killings that have largely broken down along ethnic lines and are drawing comparisons to genocide, estimated to kill thousands of people since the fighting began nearly six months ago, and about 1 million others have fled their homes. If that continues, Kerry said, it “could really present a very serious challenge to the international community with respect to the question of genocide.”
The U.S. and U.N. are threatening to bring sanctions against militants on both sides of the fighting – including, potentially, Kiir and Machar themselves. And Western officials are trying to persuade the African Union to deploy thousands of troops to South Sudan to keep the peace – or, as Kerry put it, make peace after massacres and bloody counterattacks show no sign of ceding.
Back from South Sudan Kerry also delivered a major policy speech entitled “Commitment to Africa” on Saturday May 3 here in Addis Ababa before he left for the second part of his trip, traveling to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, led a delegation that included the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Russell Feingold, the Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Donald Booth, and the Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issue Catherine Russell. In addition to his bilateral discussions, Secretary Kerry was leading the US delegation to the 4th High-Level US-AU dialogue meeting to discuss security issues in sub-Saharan Africa, the promotion of trade, investment and development partnerships, and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The main focus of Secretary Kerry’s trip, to Ethiopia, South Sudan, Congo and Angola, is on peace and security issues but arrangements for the first U.S.-Africa leaders’ summit, in August, are also on the agenda as is the situation in South Sudan.
On Thursday, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Amina Mohamed and Uganda’s Foreign Minister, Sam Kutesa, met with Secretary Kerry. Their discussion focused on the ongoing crisis in South Sudan and on ways to stop the violence claiming the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. Dr Tedros said IGAD appreciated the continued support of the US Secretary of State and through him of the US Government for their continued support to the regional peace efforts to resolve the crisis in South Sudan. He said “the frequent phone calls and active support of Secretary Kerry was indeed important”. He expressed his hope that this would continue until the problem reaches a solution. Citing the recent massacre in Bentiu, Dr. Tedros described the humanitarian crisis as “lamentable”. He stressed the need to move the talks forward and seek a lasting solution to the problems that had led to the current crisis. He pointed out that the continuing fighting had undermined the negotiations and posed a challenge for humanitarian access. Ambassador Amina Mohammed explained the efforts of the sub-region from the onset of the crisis and stressed the imperative to observe the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, ensure effective and open humanitarian corridors and to continue the talks to resolve the crisis.
Senator Kerry praised the leadership of the region and the efforts and commitment it had shown in the search for peace in South Sudan. He said he was appalled by the violence and the ethnic dimension. He underlined that the leaders of the two warring sides should make sure any who participated in violence were accountable. He said that no sectarian, racial or ethnic violence should be allowed in South Sudan. He assured the Foreign Ministers that the US would continue to work closely with its partners, including the European Union, to help the efforts of the region.