Update: Eskinder freed!
February 14, 2018: Following a widespread amnesty for political prisoners, Eskinder Nega was finally freed today, after spending six years in prison for writing. His release was delayed while the authorities attempted to pressure him to sign a false confession, associating him with a group that the Ethiopian government had classified as a terrorist organization. Eskinder refused to sign twice, but was eventually allowed to leave his prison, and return to his family and friends.
On September 14th 2011, the veteran Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega was arrested after publishing an online column in which he criticized the detention of well-known Ethiopian actor and government critic, Debebe Eshetu, and questioned the Ethiopian government’s claim that a number of journalists it had imprisoned were suspected terrorists. Eskinder's column, sent by email, ended with the same automatic signature it had carried for weeks before: “Fight tyranny from your PC.”
Eskinder Nega worked as a journalist in Ethiopia for twenty years, founding four newspapers, all of which were shut down by the Ethiopian government. He was jailed multiple times for his outspoken articles. In 2006 he and his publisher and journalist wife Serkalem Fasil were sentenced for treason simultaneously. Fasil gave birth to their son behind bars, in the same prison as Nega.
Upon his release in 2007, the couple's licenses to publish newspapers were revoked. Banned from appearing in Ethiopia's print media, Eskinder immediately turned to the Internet and began using digital technology to spread his message. Nega drew even more ire from the Ethiopian government when he continued to blog about the Arab Spring uprisings. Through articles like As Egypt and Yemen protest, whither Ethiopia's opposition? and Egypt's and General Tsadkan's lesson to Ethiopian Generals, Nega discussed the implications of the pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East on Ethiopia. Unlike the majority of his fellow journalists and activists who have been forced into exile, Nega continued to file his reports from within Ethiopia. Through the Internet, his writing reached not just Ethiopians within the country, but provided a domestic voice for Ethiopia's scattered diaspora, eager to hear independent news from within their lost home.
Eskinder's last warning from the authorities came a few months before his final arrest. He was picked up by heavily-armed police as he left an Addis Ababa cybercafe, and instructed by the deputy police commissioner that his Internet writings were “inflammatory” and that he had “already crossed the boundary”. If anything happened, they told him, they would come for him.
Nega was subsequently charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, a broadly-written law that has been used to target online journalists and political dissenters. His trial and appeal faced repeated delays, while international human rights and free expression groups continued to criticize his imprisonment and punishment. EFF, PEN America, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and others campaigned for his release, and a United Nations panel found his conviction to be in violation of international law. In July 2012, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his reporting.
Nega is being held at Kaliti prison (as written about by the Zone 9 Bloggers), where his family reports he is regularly punished for his continuing endurance. He continues to be supported by a global movement: in April, 2017, he received the International Press Institute's World Press Freedom award.