NEW YORK—The news that Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega, the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner, has finally been released from prison after close to seven years is outstanding news, said PEN America in a statement today. After a week of uncertainty following news of a large-scale amnesty of prisoners last week, Eskinder walked free from Kaliti Prison.

Imprisoned since 2011, Eskinder​ was given an 18-year sentence in 2012 for violating anti-terrorism laws after he criticized the government for arresting journalists and anti-government activists. With his release, 38 of the 42 jailed writers who have been awarded PEN America’s Freedom to Write Award are now free.

“We are overjoyed that Eskinder has been freed, and call on the governments of Ethiopia and the United States to ensure that he can be speedily r​eunited with his family in the United States and return to his writing unhindered by interference or harassment,” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “Coming a day after the announcement that PEN America’s 2018 Freedom to Write Award will honor two imprisoned journalists in Myanmar, this news gives us hope that shining a spotlight and ensuring that the faces and voices of those unjustly held behind bars are still seen and heard can help ensure their ultimate freedom.”

Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law, which criminalizes reporting deemed to “encourage” or support alleged “terrorist” groups is vague and overbroad and has been used to imprison several leading journalists. Eskinder has been detained at least six times for his writings as a journalist. In 2005, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem Fasil were jailed together with 12 other journalists for treason for reporting on the government’s violent crackdown following disputed parliamentary elections. Serkalem gave birth to the couple’s son in prison, before she and Eskinder were acquitted in 2007.

While in prison, Eskinder​ wrote a piece entitled “Letter from Ethiopia’s Gulag,” and after his appeal was denied in 2013, he penned a letter that began with the words, “Individuals can be penalized, made to suffer (oh, how I miss my child) and even killed. But democracy is a destiny of humanity which cannot be averted. It can be delayed but not defeated.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression At Risk Programs: