Status: In Prison
Eskinder Nega, a journalist and blogger based in Addis Ababa, was sentenced on July 13, 2012, to 18 years in prison for violating anti-terrorism laws after he criticized the government for arresting journalists and anti-government activists. He is currently being held at Kaliti Prison in Addis Ababa, where political prisoners are housed with criminals.
On May 1, 2012, PEN honored Eskinder with the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, recognizing his struggle in the face of adversity for the right to freedom of expression. On May 18, 2017, he received the International Press Institute (IPI)’s 69th World Press Freedom Hero award.
Eskinder Nega was arrested on September 14, 2011, after he published a column questioning the government’s claim that a number of journalists it had detained were suspected terrorists, and after he criticized the arrest of well-known Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu on terror charges earlier that week.
Eskinder is one of Ethiopia’s leading advocates for press freedom and freedom of expression. He has been publishing articles critical of the government since 1993, when he opened his first newspaper, Ethiopis, which was soon shut down by authorities. He was a general manager of Serkalem Publishing House, which published the newspapers Asqual, Satenaw, and Menelik, all of which are now banned in Ethiopia. Eskinder has also been a columnist for the monthly magazine Change and for the U.S.-based news forum EthioMedia, which are also banned in Ethiopia. He has continued to publicly call for an end to political corruption and repression despite being continuously harassed and denied a license to practice journalism.
Eskinder Nega was arrested under Ethiopia’s sweeping anti-terrorism legislation on September 14, 2011, after he published a column questioning the government’s claim that a number of journalists it had detained were suspected terrorists, and for criticizing the arrest of well-known Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu on terror charges earlier that week. Eskinder was accused of affiliation with the banned political party Ginbot 7, and state television portrayed him and other political prisoners as “spies for foreign forces.”
Eskinder was among 24 defendants charged on November 10, 2011, and that month government spokesman Shimeles Kemal said that Eskinder stood accused of receiving weapons and explosives from neighboring Eritrea in order to carry out terrorist attacks in Ethiopia.
Eskinder Nega’s trial for charges under the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which covers the “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement, and attempt” of terrorist acts, began on March 6, 2012. The prosecution’s evidence against Eskinder and the 23 other defendants consisted of nearly inaudible recordings of telephone conversations and other comments and video of a town hall meeting in which Eskinder discusses the differences between Arab countries and Ethiopia. Eskinder took the stand on March 28, 2012, and denied all the charges against him, saying he never conspired to overthrow the government through violence and admitting only to reporting on the Arab Spring and speculating on whether a similar movement would take place in Ethiopia. Eskinder’s wife, fellow journalist Serkalem Fasil, maintained that Eskinder is “a journalist, not a member of a political party.”
On June 27, 2012, Eskinder was found guilty of the charges against him. On July 13, 2012, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, and on May 2, 2013, the Ethiopian Federal Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence. Eskinder has appealed to the Court of Cassation.
Eskinder had previously been detained at least six times over the past two decades under former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. In February 2011, he was briefly detained for “attempts to incite Egyptian and Tunisian-like protests in Ethiopia.” In 2005, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem Fasil were jailed along with 12 other journalists for treason for reporting on the government’s violent crackdown following disputed parliamentary elections—a crackdown that included firing on protesters and mass closures of media outlets. Serkalem gave birth to the couple’s son in prison in 2006. The couple was acquitted and released in 2007, but both were denied licenses to launch new newspapers. Their existing newspapers were shut down and not allowed to reopen.
Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes the government considers to be “terrorist,” has been widely criticized both for its vague terms and for its application, and has been used to imprison a number of leading journalists.
Writing by Eskinder Nega
Letter from Ethiopia’s Gulag
I Shall Persevere!
Debebe Eshetu’s arrest and New Year
Ethiopia: Time for peaceful change
Gadhafi’s fall and Meles Zenawi
SOS: Dissent and terrorism in Ethiopia
Open letter to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi