Jailed Ethiopian dissident blogger and journalist Eskinder Nega is the winner of Pen America's PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for his endeavor for freedom of expression in an extremely inhospitable media landscape. Eskinder Nega is currently facing the death penalty.
Upon collecting his prize on his behalf, Serkalem Fasil, his wife who is also a once jailed journalist, highlighted the worsening situation of Ethiopia’s free press. She said:
I accept this award on behalf of Eskinder Nega at a time when freedom of expression and press freedom are at the lowest in Ethiopia. If Eskinder were standing here, he'd accept this award, not just as a personal honor, but on behalf of all Ethiopian journalists who toil under withering conditions today: Those who went into exile over the years… those in prison with whom he now resides.
Ethiopian bloggers and netizens on social networking sites congratulated all Ethiopian journalists and bloggers immediately after the news appeared on the BBC and other sites. They also used the opportunity to draw attention to the deteriorating situationof media landscape in Ethiopia.
Addis Ababa based blogger Abel Wabellaa wrote:
Super excited!!! because (https://www.facebook.com/pages/I-am-Eskinder-Nega/236369699747226) I am Eskinder Nega aren't we Zelalem , BefeQadu and Jomanex ?
Eskinder is a hero of a special kind. He is a hero who fights with nothing more than ideas and the truth. He slays falsehoods with the sword of truth. He chases bad ideas with good ones. Armed only with a pen, Eskinder fights despair with hope; fear with courage; anger with reason; arrogance with humility; ignorance with knowledge; intolerance with forbearance; oppression with perseverance; doubt with trust and cruelty with compassion. Above all, Eskinder speaks truth to power and to those who abuse, misuse, overuse and are corrupted by power.
Yes, that is why We Are All Eskinder Nega
In fact Eskinder is not the only gem of tattered Ethiopian modern day journalism, my favorite stalwarts of Addis Neger journalists, Dawit Kebede, Wubeshet Taye and of course Reyot Alemu are all creditable for their daring attempt in becoming alternative voices in Ethiopian media landscape. But Eskinder is a highly remarkable emblem for freedom of expression. In a time when many journalists not succeeded in enduring horrendous pressures from a range of interest groups, both financially and politically, Eskinder was something of a matchless: a well-behaved and top end professional who did not succumb to either exile and or silence.
Mesfin Negash, an exiled journalist who has also been charged with terrorism in absentia, wrote:
Eskinder Nega is increasingly becoming the human face of the repression in Ethiopia as it was Birtukan Mideksa before her release. The first name you'll hear in any discussion about Ethiopia is ESKINDER be it among donors or diplomats or right advocates. That is a constant reminder to MZ!
However, Berihun Mekonnen disagreed with Mesfin's observations:
I have every respect and appreciation for all you have done (and in fact you are still doing) concerning journalism and how to reason critically, but I think you have a problem in building some individuals cult. when Siye Abriha came out of prison your paper Addis Neger (Oh God! I missed it a lot!) gave him an unfair chance to cleanse his name and what he has done. I believe your paper has helped him to rinse his name and rise up again re-building up his personality again. Again sometime when Birtukan went to jail you were writing about her again and again like she were not an opposition politician having a political dispute with a repressive govt but as a Jean de Arc who is fighting for a truth and the nation's liberation. And now you are doing the same thing for Eskindir! I am not denying that the government is repressive but how about what these people are doing? Do you really believe that Eskindir was doing only a journalist's job? I understand he is bold and courageous but it has been said a lot about his involvement with ”illegal” politicians and politics! I am trying to convey that we should also see and talk about what ”others” have done to have offended the govt rather than talking about the govt that doesn't heed anything all the time.
More than ten journalists have been imprisoned in Ethiopia since June 2011. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that about 25% of exiled journalists in Africa are from Ethiopia, making the country the world's main enemy of major driving forces of free expression: journalists, bloggers and political dissidents.
Ethiopian government has increased its online censorship activities since September 2011.