Press Uncuffed

#FreeThePress Spotlight

Media Icon Medium: Internet
Charge Icon Charge: Anti-State
Imprisoned Icon Imprisoned: September 14, 2011

Eskinder Nega Ethiopia

Eskinder Nega, a prominent online columnist and former publisher and editor of now-shuttered newspapers, was arrested by Ethiopian security forces on vague accusations of involvement in a terrorism plot. Eskinder’s arrest came only five days after he published a column on the U.S.-based news website EthioMedi. The column was critical of the government of Ethiopia for misusing the country’s sweeping anti- terrorism law to jail prominent journalists and dissident intellectuals.

The charges are part of a pattern of government persecution of Eskinder in reprisal for his critical coverage of the government. In 2011, police detained Eskinder and threatened him in connection with his online columns that drew comparisons between the Egyptian uprising and Ethiopia’s 2005 pro-democracy protests, according to news reports. His coverage of the Ethiopian government’s repression of the 2005 protests landed him in jail for 17 months on anti-state charges at the time. After his release in 2007, authorities banned his newspapers and denied him licenses to start new titles. He was first arrested in September 1993 in connection with his articles about the government’s crackdown on dissent in Western Ethiopia, according to CPJ research.

Following Eskinder’s 2011 arrest, state television described him as a spy for “foreign forces” and accused him of having links with the banned opposition movement Ginbot 7, which the Ethiopian government has designated a terrorist group.

Despite consistently proclaiming his innocence, Eskinder was ultimately convicted on the basis of a video of a public town hall meeting in which he discussed the possibility of a popular uprising in Ethiopia if the ruling party did not deliver democratic reform, according to reports.

In July 2012, a federal high court judge in Addis Ababa sentenced Eskinder to 18 years in prison. That same year, a U.N. panel found that Eskinder’s imprisonment was “a result of his peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression,” according to a report published in April 2013.

In 2012 the PEN America Centre hosted a public forum at which the legendary Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein highlighted Eskinder’s contribution to journalism.

In May 2013, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal and upheld the sentence. Eskinder is being held at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, with restricted visitation rights.

In January 2014, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers awarded him its annual Golden Pen of Freedom award.

Photo credit Eskinder Nega: Lennart Kjörling