New York Review of Books: Free Eskinder Nega!
The New York Review of Books has published a PEN-initiated letter calling on President Obama and all world leaders to condemn the conviction of journalist and 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award recipient Eskinder Nega in Ethiopia.
The letter, which is co-signed by PEN American Center President Peter Godwin, Aryeh Neier of the Open Society Foundations, Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth, Joel Simon of the Committee to Protect Journalists, and William Easterly of the Development Research Institute at New York University, condemns Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi’s growing propensity to jail his critics as “terrorists” for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Eskinder was convicted with 23 others on vague terrorism charges by the Ethiopian high court on June 27, 2012, the latest in a 17-year campaign by Meles to silence one of Ethiopia’s most courageous independent voices. He is to be sentenced this Friday, and faces from 15 years to life in prison.
The New York Review of Books piece quotes Eskinder himself, from a 2010 letter to Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, describing his life since an earlier imprisonment with his wife, journalist Serkalem Fasil:
We are banned Ethiopian journalists who were charged with treason by the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi subsequent to disputed election results in 2005, incarcerated under deplorable circumstances, only to be acquitted sixteen months later, after Serkalem prematurely gave birth in prison.
Despite Serkalem’s difficult pregnancy, both of us managed to keep detailed notes of the sham trial while it was in progress, which were smuggled out of prison. The notes were swiftly altered into a 1000-page book and rushed to a printer for publication.…
Fifteen days later we received an unexpected call from a much-traumatized proprietor of the printing press, who returned our manuscript and deposit, explaining that he had been visited by members of the Ethiopian security, who explicitly threatened his life should he fail to halt printing of the book.
Such is the government that PM Meles Zenawi leads.
A few months later we applied for a press license to resume our work as journalists after fulfilling all legal requirements. To the surprise of even the government’s apologists, we and others were officially denied press licenses that are our due by virtue of the constitution and the press law.
As we await news of Eskinder’s sentence, PEN urges everyone who has not already done so to take a few minutes to watch this moving video tribute that introduced Eskinder at the PEN Gala in May, and this video of Serkalem Fasil’s powerful acceptance remarks on his behalf.