The State Department has had a “Free Press” campaign for the past two weeks. Each day the Department highlights an imprisoned activist or journalist facing unreasonable conditions and imprisonment from countries around the world. After Tuesday’s journalist was described a reporter asked Deputy Secretary Ventrell, “Can you point to one instance in any of the cases that you listed this week where the U.S. – whether there’s been consequences in the relationship for any of these imprisonments?” Ventrell said that the Department “raises ” concerns “very clearly and very directly.” “I know you raise them,” the reporter replied before Ventrell cut her off. Matt Lee with the Associated Press went on to further engage Ventrell, asking if travel by officials, including Secretary Kerry, had been changed as a means of consequence. After a long response from Ventrell, Lee interrupted and said, “So the answer is no, this – your concern isn’t strong enough” to make Department officials to change plans.
MR. VENTRELL: I have one thing for you at the top before I turn it over to all of you. First of all, on our Free the Press campaign, today we have actually something that’s very much in the news today and pertinent, so let me go ahead and say the United States is deeply disappointed that Ethiopia’s Federal Supreme Court upheld the conviction and harsh sentencing of journalist Eskinder Nega and opposition politician Andualem Arage under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Penal Code.
Today’s decision further reinforces our serious concern about Ethiopia’s politicized prosecution of those critical of the government and ruling party, including under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to freedom of opinion and expression, and that this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media, a universal right that is also enshrined in Ethiopia’s constitution. The United States believes that upholding freedoms of expression, association, and other human rights is essential if Ethiopia is to realize its stated goal of being a democratic state. We continue to urge the release of those who have been imprisoned in Ethiopia for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
QUESTION: I have a question on that one, if you don’t mind.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) but –
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, please.
QUESTION: No, please, go ahead. You spoke first.
QUESTION: I mean, can you point to one instance in any of the cases that you listed this week where the U.S. – whether there’s been consequences in the relationship for any of these imprisonments?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we raise these cases very clearly and very directly.
QUESTION: I know you raise them. I know you raise them, but, I mean –
MR. VENTRELL: Let me finish, Elise. Let me finish, Elise. Some of these cases are with governments where we have a more difficult relationship, some where we have a friendly relationship, and we raise them across the gamut of those relationships in a very clear and direct way. And so we’ll continue to do that, and we think it’s been important over these last couple weeks to publicly call out and make very clear our concern about some specific cases, and so we’ve done so.
QUESTION: So Secretary Kerry, in testimony a couple weeks ago, said that he’s going to go to Ethiopia soon. Is this – are your concerns deep enough for him to re-think whether he would go?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I don’t have any travel dates or countries to announce for potential travel to Africa for the Secretary, but it is somewhere he looks forward to –
QUESTION: Well, I know he –
MR. VENTRELL: — Africa, the continent, somewhere he looks forward to visiting. In terms of a visit to Ethiopia, we do have a bilateral relationship, we have a number of mutual interests and concerns –
QUESTION: Well, I –
MR. VENTRELL: — and so the relationship continues. But we very clearly and publicly want to state our concerns when we have them, and you know that we’ve talked about this particular case of Eskinder Nega in a number of times in the past, and we thought it was appropriate to do so again today.
QUESTION: Okay. So the answer is no, this – your concern isn’t strong enough that it would stop him from going?
MR. VENTRELL: We travel and we continue our relationship with countries with whom we have a number of –
QUESTION: Can I move to –
MR. VENTRELL: — where we have human rights concerns. Go ahead, Matt.