Eskinder Nega

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New York, November 5, 2013--As media leaders and officials of regional institutions gather in Addis Ababa this week for the African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF), the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the participants to ensure that press freedom is squarely on the agenda.

Woubshet Taye's wife Berhane Tesfaye and their son accepted an award on behalf of the imprisoned journalist. (CPJ/Sue Valentine)

Journalists and media owners across Africa gave Ethiopian journalist Woubshet Taye a standing ovation in Cape Town on Saturday night at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards 2013, but he wasn't there to see it. Instead his wife and son accepted the Free Press Award on his behalf.

Part of the citation for the award reads: "Ethiopia is a jewel in the African crown for its beauty, its people, its history and, most recently, for its astonishing growth rates. It is the judges' view that journalists like Woubshet Taye and his colleagues Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega should be out of prison and working to build the prosperity and the freedom of a new Ethiopia. The judges make this award in recognition of Mr. Taye's work and in solidarity with his condition."

Ethiopian journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu. (Lennart Kjörling and IWMF)

In 1968, Andrei Sakharov braved censorship and personal risk in the Soviet Union to give humanity an honest and timeless declaration of conscience. That same year, Ethiopia's most prominent dissenter, Eskinder Nega, was born. In January 1981, a year into Sakharov's exile in the closed city of Gorky, Reeyot Alemu, another fierce, Ethiopian free thinker, was born.

The dangerous neighborhood of Eastleigh is home to some exiled journalists. (AP)

It was well past mid-day in Eastleigh, a shanty district on the east side of Nairobi, Kenya. The billows of dust rising from the rock-scarred road showed a government that had long lost interest in the neighborhood. A young man, struggling with horribly dry conditions, was fighting with his patrons. "Welahi, today's khat is so small. I need more," a Somali customer was complaining. "Pole, hakuna unvua" ("Sorry, no rain"). "Khat is getting expensive in these days," the young man tried to convince him in Kiswahili and English. Few knew that the young peddler was once a journalist in Ethiopia. They cared neither about his profession nor the reasons he had fled his home country. For them, he was just a dealer of khat, the mildly addictive green leaf that is chewed in East Africa. It was as simple as that. 

New York, May 2, 2013---In response to today's ruling by Ethiopia's Supreme Court to uphold an 18-year prison sentence imposed on award-winning journalist Eskinder Nega and reject his appeal, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement: 

"This ruling trivializes the serious crime of terrorism, upholds a politically motivated travesty of justice, and lessens Ethiopia's international standing," CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said. "As a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, Ethiopia should comply with its obligations under international law and its own constitution and release Eskinder unconditionally. The persecution of Eskinder and other journalists is the hallmark of a regime fearful of the opinions of its citizens."

Eskinder Nega (Eskinder family)

Authorities in Ethiopia describe Eskinder Nega, a prominent columnist and government critic jailed since September 2011 on vague terrorism charges, as a dangerous individual bent on violent revolution. However, in an opinion handed down in 2012--publicized only this week by Washington, D.C.-based legal advocacy group Freedom Now--a United Nations panel of five independent experts ruled that Eskinder's imprisonment came "as a result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression."

Governments exploit national security laws to punish critical journalists. By Monica Campbell

(AFP/Jonathan Nackstrand)

Worldwide tally reaches highest point since CPJ began surveys in 1990. Governments use charges of terrorism, other anti-state offenses to silence critical voices. Turkey is the world's worst jailer. A CPJ special report

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