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Ethiopia: Online Reactions to Prison Sentence for Dissident Blogger

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia, Citizen Media, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Politics

Five days before his arrest in September last year, a prominent Ethiopian dissident blogger, Eskinder Nega, wrote, “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.”

Eskinder Nega. Picture source: arefe.files.wordpress.com

On 13 July, 2012 Ethiopia's federal court sentenced Eskinder and 23 other opposition activists to long prison terms [1] for “participating in a terrorist organization”.

In a 20-minute presentation, Eskinder challenged the prosecution’s case. He admitted writing and speaking about whether an Arab Spring-like movement might take root in Ethiopia and calling for peaceful protests, but denied advocating violence or unconstitutional change. He warned the court that history would judge its verdict.

Immediately after the court's judgement, netizens used different social media platforms to share their reactions.

Tsedi Lemma [2] posted on her Facebook:

Andualem Aragei – life in prison. Eskindir Nega – 18 years Mesfin Negash [3] and Abiye Teklemariam [4] 8 years each……What a day! Don't even know what I am feeling right now. May be pain and despair…

Tessema S. Belay [5] reacted to Tsedi's post:

The distinction between legal and illegal activities is getting blurred from time to time. When you write or talk, you can't know whether you are exercising your right or committing a crime of “high treason”. Isn't it a shame for the Ethiopian criminal justice system that prosecutors can secure criminal conviction of people like Abiye and Mesfin, people who left the country in fear of persecution, for supporting or encouraging “terrorism”? I found it so funny to see a court telling me that Eskinder, Mesfin and Abiye are criminals from whom the society should be protected from and they should stay in prison(to be corrected) while I can lead my life freely. Sorry, am I showing sympathy for convicted “terrorists”? I think I remember that all human rights are included in our constitution and should be interpreted based on international standards. Is the copy of the Constitution our courts have the same as the one we know? Come on the Ethiopian Government, the whole world is watching! You are embarrassing us.

Abiye Teklemariam (@abiyetk [6]), who is also sentenced for 8 years in absence, tweeted,

@abiyetk [7]: Ethiopian court just sentenced me to 8 years in prison. It is the least of my worries. #Ethiopia [8] is on a cusp of something big politically.

Endalkachew HaileMichael [9], Ethiopian blogger and GlobalVoices author [10], believes 13 June was a dramatic day in Ethiopia:

What an eventful day in Ethiopia with journalists & dissents getting heavy sentences while PM Meles Zenawi rumored to be seriously sick [11] .Is this an episode of a series of dramatic events to be happening in our beloved Ethiopia?

Ian Moore [12] tweeted;

@IanMoore3000 [13]: 18 years for Ethiopian blogger, as Ethiopia tries to take title of most repressive African country from Eritrea

UDJ Leader Andualem Aragie (with his wife and children), jailed for life in prison . Picture source: De Birhan blog

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirms that since 2011 the Ethiopian government has convicted 11 independent journalists and bloggers under a sweeping anti-terrorism law. Among those jailed are two Swedish journalists [14] who are serving an 11 year prison term for allegedly supporting an ethnic Somali rebel group.

Eskinder Nega is the winner o [15]f Pen America's PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for his endeavor for freedom of expression in an extremely inhospitable media landscape.