Name: Eskinder Nega
On 1 May 2013, Ethiopia’s Supreme Court upheld prominent journalist Eskinder Nega’s 18 year prison sentence. The decision follows broad international criticism of Mr. Nega’s arrest including an advisory opinion issued by the UN working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 1 April 2013, calling for Mr. Nega ‘immediate release.’ In its decision, the Working Group determined that the Ethiopian government had violated Nega’s fundamental rights to free expression and due process, as codified under the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (ICCPR).
Following the court’s May ruling, Mr Nega remains stalwart, insisting, “I will live to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It may or may not be a long wait. Whichever way events may go, I shall persevere!”
Reason behind bars:
In July 2012, Eskinder Nega, a prominent Ethiopian blogger and human rights defender, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on terrorism charges. Mr Nega has been regularly targeted by the authorities, including being detained on eight separate occasions and forced to dissolve four independent publications since his journalistic career began in 1993.
Most recently, on 14 September 2011 Mr Nega was arrested in the capital, Addis Ababa, shortly after writing an article critical of the Ethiopian government’s use of the country’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to persecute those who express dissenting views. After being held in incommunicado detention without access to a legal counsel for nearly months, on 10 November 2011 Nega and 23 others were charged with terrorism and treason under the Ethiopia’ 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the 2004 Ethiopian Criminal Code.
On 27 June 2012, Mr Nega was found guilty of terrorism, membership in the banned opposition political party, Ginbot 7 and attempting to incite violence through posting incendiary articles online. It is reported the Mr Nega was placed in solitary confinement following his conviction and was routinely subjected to beatings, forced sleep deprivation and other forms of inhumane treatment. On 13 July 2012, Mr Nega was sentenced to 18 years in Prison. Mr Nega remains in prison, pending his appeal at the Supreme Court.
CIVICUS calls on the Ethiopian authorities to desist from intimidating activists and dissenters and to immediately and unconditionally release Eskinder Nega.
Mr Nega’s prosecution for undertaking his legitimate work as a journalist occurs in the wake of the Ethiopian government’s escalating campaign to suppress political and civic dissent. Since controversial national elections in 2005, the government has increasingly invoked national legislation to prosecute activists, journalists and individual citizens who express opinions critical of government policy.
Under ambiguous and overbroad provisions found in the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, including provisions which criminalize the publication of statements “likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public . . . as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to them to the commission or preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism,” at least 11 journalists have been sentenced to prison terms.
A number of intergovernmental bodies have spoken out against the law.In 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee, in its Concluding Observation on Ethiopia stated that, “It is concerned by the scope of some of its [Anti-Terrorism Proclamation] provisions, including the criminalisation of encouragement and inducement of terrorism through publication, which can lead to abuse against the media. Furthermore, in May 2012, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a resolution expressing grave alarm at the “arrest and prosecutions of journalists and political opposition members, charged with terrorism and other offences, including treason, for exercising their peaceful and legitimate rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.”
President of the PEN American Center, Peter Godwin, described Eskinder Nega as "that bravest and most admirable of writers, one who picked up his pen to write things that he knew would surely put him at grave risk. Yet he did so nonetheless. And indeed he fell victim to exactly the measures he was highlighting."
In response to the Appeal Court’s ruling in May, Eskinder Nega stated in an open letter from prison: “Individuals can be penalised, made to suffer (oh, how I miss my child) and even killed,” he writes. “But democracy is a destiny of humanity which cannot be averted. It can be delayed but not defeated.”
For more information:
- Decision by Ethiopia’s Supreme court to uphold Eskinder Nega’s 18 year sentence
- Joint letter requesting Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to remove arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association - CIVICUS
- Global body speaks out against suppression of Ethiopian media and Civil Society - CIVICUS
- International community must act against latest curbs on free speech in Ethiopia - CIVICUS
- See statement by Amnesty International on the arrest of government critics in Ethiopia
- Ethiopia: Stop Using Anti-Terror Law to Stifle Peaceful Dissent - Amnesty International
- Ethiopia: Crackdown on Dissent Intensifies – Human Rights Watch
- Sign Amnesty International’s petition calling for Eskinder Nega’s immediate release
- Send a letter to the Ethiopian Authorities calling for Eskinder Nega’s immediate release