2012 PEN/Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award Winner Eskinder Nega to be Released After More Than Six Years in Prison in Ethiopia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
NEW YORK— PEN America welcomes and celebrates the anticipated release of our 2012 PEN/Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner Eskinder Nega in Ethiopia after more than six years behind bars. Reports indicate that Nega was one among 740 Ethiopian prisoners pardoned as part of a political reform initiative, and slated to be freed from jail.
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.
“We are overjoyed at news that Eskinder has been pardoned and is to be freed to reunite with his family and return to his writing. We hope that his release is immediate and call on the government of Ethiopia to ensure his full rights to freedom of expression and freedom of movement, including the right to travel.” said PEN America Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “However, we are concerned over reports that Nega and other former prisoners would be subject to ‘rehabilitation training.’ What Eskinder needs is the liberty to return to his family and rebuild his life, free from any kind of government requirements or interference. We call on the Ethiopian government to release all political prisoners and make this important move a clear step toward greater respect for human rights and freedom.”
Eskinder had previously been detained at least six times over the past two decades, including a brief detention earlier in 2011 for “attempts to incite Egyptian and Tunisian-like protests in Ethiopia.” 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—the crackdown included firing on protesters and mass closures of media outlets. 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.”
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.
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. pen.org
Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected], 646-981-0685