Free Eskinder Nega

Once the editor and publisher of one of Ethiopia’s most popular newspapers, Eskinder Nega was jailed for 17 months after the country’s disputed 2005 elections. Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience. Following his release, the Ethiopian government refused to grant him or his wife Serkalem Fasil licenses to reopen their publications.

In 2007, the couple donated winnings from Serkalem’s Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation to Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists. In 2010, on the eve of Ethiopia’s last national election, the country’s Supreme Court ruled they and other publishers must pay steep fines dating to the government’s treason case against them and other journalists from 2005.

Though Eskinder holds a U.S. residence permit, he and his family have refused to flee Ethiopia, despite repeated encouragement from government officials. Unable to publish domestically, Eskinder became a popular online columnists and one of the few journalists in Ethiopia to offer independent commentary on political events in the country. He is the face of Internet censorship in a country that is among the leading online censors in sub-Saharan Africa and an apparent victim of the government’s effort to prevent the spread of the ‘Arab Spring’ to Ethiopia.

Ron Singer, an American author who has interviewed numerous journalists in countries with restrictive media environments, conducted a lengthy interview with Eskinder prior to his arrest for the South African news site Pambazuka. It describes why he refuses to leave the country, and why he thinks it’s important to continue writing.

Aug. 26, 2011

“Ethiopia must and should avoid violence. If Ethiopia shuns violence so will most of sub-Sahara Africa. And only then will the advent of the African Spring be even better news than that of the Arab Spring.”

Sept. 9, 2011

“Freedom is partial to no race. Freedom has no religion. Freedom favors no ethnicity. Freedom discriminates not between rich and poor countries. Inevitably freedom will overwhelm Ethiopia.”

Excerpts of Eskinder’s columns:

Feb. 4, 2011

“If the protests do spread to Ethiopia, as the EPRDF fears, the least that history demands from Ethiopian generals, particularly with the examples of Tunisia and Egypt in the picture, is no repeat of the wanton, random, excessive shootings to the head and heart of unarmed protesters...

Jan. 28, 2011

“Could the legal Ethiopian opposition leaders try to replicate what the legal opposition triggered in Egypt? ‘No,’ firmly answered an opposition official I queried. ‘There will be a massacre and it will also be the end of us,’ he said.

March 4, 2011

Open letter to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi:

“You have essentially wasted the two decades with which you were blessed to affect change. In place of pragmatism, dogma has prevailed, in place of transparency, secrecy has taken root, in place of democracy, oppression has intensified, and in place of merit, patronage has been rewarded.”

February 25, 2011

“The military is all the EPRDF has in Ethiopia. There are no powerful paramilitaries or mercenaries to counterweigh the might of the army. Only its forceful intervention on either side in the event of protests, or its neutrality, as was the case in Egypt until the very last moments, will sway the balance of power.”

Dissent is not terrorism