July 13, 2012
Washington, DC: Today, the Ethiopian government sentenced journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega to 18 years in prison on terrorism charges after he published articles and publicly commented on the possibility of an Arab Spring-like movement occurring in Ethiopia.
“We strongly condemn the sentence and are extremely disappointed that the court imposed such a harsh punishment merely because Mr. Nega exercised his fundamental right to peaceful freedom of expression,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “Unfortunately, this clear violation of international law is only the latest example of the Ethiopian government’s continued misuse of anti-terror legislation to stifle independent and critical voices.”
The Ethiopian government arrested Mr. Nega on September 14, 2011 after he published a series of articles and spoke publicly in support of non-violent protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, and Lybia. Authorities held him without access to family for 28 days and without access to legal counsel for nearly two months. The Lideta Federal High Court found Mr. Nega guilty of terrorism charges on June 27, accusing him of writing “articles that incited the public to bring the North African and Arab uprisings to Ethiopia” and today sentenced him to 18 years in prison.
Mr. Nega has worked as an independent journalist in Ethiopia since 1993—as a result, authorities have detained him eight times. He and his wife Serkalem Fasil, who shares his profession, have both won international awards for their work. Following Ethiopia’s contested 2005 elections both Mr. Nega and Ms. Fasil were detained for 17 months for their coverage of the election and subsequent unrest. Charges against them included “outrages against the constitution” and “attempted genocide.” Ms. Fasil, who was pregnant at the time of arrest, gave birth to the couple’s son, Nafkot, in Kaliti prison.
Freedom Now represents Mr. Nega as pro bono international legal counsel.