Civil Discourse: The State of Journalism in Ethiopia

An award ceremony in New York last May hosted by PEN America honored imprisoned Ethiopian blogger Eskinder Nega. (Photo: Eskinder's wife Serkalem Fasil at the event on Tuesday May 1st, 2012 / Tadias Magazine file)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias staff

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – The recent hardline stand by Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn regarding the fate of several jailed journalists in Ethiopia, including the award-winning blogger Eskinder Nega, has generated a timely discussion on various Ethiopian Diaspora websites on how to best promote civil political discourse.

Meanwhile press advocates say the PM’s early words do not inspire confidence for progressive change. “We are disappointed by the contemptuous statements that Prime Minister Hailemariam directed at the journalists languishing in prison in Ethiopia on vague and trumped-up terrorism charges, particularly Eskinder Nega,” said Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “The government of Ethiopia, like all governments, wants the press to limit itself to cover what it’s doing. Well, for the last 21 years, Eskinder Nega has used his pen, not a gun, to cover the promises that the government has failed to deliver while articulating a hopeful vision of what Ethiopia should be.”

In his interview with VOA’s Peter Heinlein last week, Hailemariam defended the continued imprisonment of Eskinder Nega on the basis of national security, repeating the state’s claims that the writer had been living a “double life,” or as he called it, “wearing two hats.”

Mr. Keita said “calling him a terrorist is absurd,” pointing out that Eskinder “has paid a very high price” for his profession, including having a son born in prison and refusing exile while under intense police pressure. “Terrorism is a very serious crime but the Ethiopian government has turned trivial acts like writing about opposition groups or calling for political reform acts of terrorism,” Mr. Keita said.

Regarding the case of Eskinder Nega, Mr. Keita pointed out that “the assault on Eskinder’s right to freedom of expression is an assault on the Ethiopian constitution, the fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all Ethiopians and the dreams that all Ethiopians have for a better country.” He noted that “it is not too late for PM Hailemariam to restore the public’s confidence in Ethiopia’s judiciary system by ordering the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, including Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu, and Woubshet Taye.”

“The value of a press free of state control is that it serves as an open marketplace of ideas, reflecting the natural diversity of opinions,” Keita added. “It is not to echo what the government wants to hear, but to echo what it should hear so that it can adjust its policies and attain the development goals.”

Related:
Ethiopia’s New PM Says Policies Will Remain Constant (VOA News)

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