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Ethiopia

Eskinder Nega

Eskinder Nega is a prominent Ethiopian journalist, dissident politician and leading pro-democracy activist who has been jailed 10 times since 1993 for his outspoken criticism of Ethiopia’s authoritarian regimes. Eskinder spent almost one fifth of his life in prison, for doing the work of a journalist and advocating for democracy in Ethiopia.

In 1993, Eskinder launched one of Ethiopia’s first- ever independent newspapers, Ethiopia, which was soon shut down by authorities in the same year. He was later on a general manager of Serkalem Publishing House, where he and his wife, Serkalem Fasil, a publisher, published various newspapers, all of which are now banned in Ethiopia. Following Ethiopia’s contested May 2005 general elections, mass anti-government demonstrations broke out to protest rigging by the ruling Ehtiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front. In response, the regime launched a brutal and deadly crackdown, killing protesters, rounding up opposition leaders, activists and journalists such as Eskinder and shuing down independent newspapers. Both Eskinder and Serkalem were charged with treason, “outrages against the Constitution '' and “incitement to an armed conspiracy.” Eskinder and Serkalem served 17 months in prison before they were acquied. Following their release Eskinder and Serkalem’s newspapers remained banned and both were denied from launching new newspapers. Unable to continue working as a newspaper editor, Eskinder took to blogging. He was arrested in September 2011 and charged under Ethiopia’s draconian anti- terrorism legislation over a column criticizing the government for arresting journalists and anti- government activists.

On July 13, 2012, Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years in prison under trumped-up terrorism charges over articles criticizing the government for arresting journalists and activists. Eskinder Nega was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International following his imprisonment. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared that his sentence was in violation of international law. He was also awarded PEN America’s Freedom To Write Award. With the advent of reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, he was among thousands of political prisoners to be released. He was freed on February 14, 2018 and launched Ethiopis, a weekly newspaper. However, on March 25, 2018, Eskinder was re-arrested alongside other journalists and politicians over accusations of displaying a prohibited national flag at a peaceful gathering in violation of an official state of emergency. He was released without charge on April 5, 2018, after 12 days of arbitrary imprisonment.

In September 2019, Eskinder founded the Balderas for Genuine Democracy Party. He was among several opposition figures arrested by the Ethiopian government in the aftermath of deadly violence following the assassination of popular musician Hachalu Hundessa. On July 1, 2020, he was arrested and accused of allegedly aempting to incite violence and chaos during the riots. State prosecutors filed terrorism charges against him in September, without his presence or that of his lawyer and after holding him in arbitrary detention for more than two months. Eskinder complained that he was physically assaulted by police after his arrest. He was then transferred to the same prison where he spent over six years for his journalism. Currently, Eskinder is reported to be in a life- threatening situation in prison. His safety and security are said to be compromised under his current situation.

Charges: Terrorism; outrages against the constitution
Jail term: Not yet specified

Support address:

Eskinder Nega
Kilinto Remand Center,
Federal Prison Commission of Ethiopia, P Addis Ababa
Ethiopia

Information provided by
Human Rights Foundation