By Tadias Staff
Updated: December 1st, 2013
“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”
The above quote, which is often attributed to George Orwell (née Eric Arthur Blair) — one of the most influential journalists of the 20th century — rings true of 21st century politics in Ethiopia where some individuals who are keen to write dissenting news articles are accused of “clandestine terrorism” and punished with decade-long prison terms.
Just ask Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu, who are languishing at Kaliti prion for bringing forth hard-hitting questions that the authorities would rather sweep under the carpet. Eskinder Nega is serving an 18-year sentence for publishing a piece in 2011 that raised the question: Could an Arab Spring-like movement take place in Ethiopia?
“This is the eighth time in his 20-year career that he has been imprisoned simply for doing his job,” notes a new crowd-sourcing campaign attempting to raise funds to cover the legal expenses required to take their case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. “If Eskinder’s conviction is not quashed, his seven year old son will be an adult before he is released.”
Reeyot Alemu, a former teacher, was likewise sentenced to five years in prison after writing articles focusing on minority rights and the mismanagement of government funded projects including a hydroelectric dam. While in prison she was diagnosed with breast cancer and has not received adequate care. Her family members including her sister and fiancé have also been restricted from visiting her. Reeyot was awarded the prestigious World Press Freedom Award in 2013 in recognition of her work and struggle.
Although the African Court on Human & Peoples’ Rights officially began its operation in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2006 it has since been moved to Arusha, Tanzania. Twenty-six African countries have ratified the protocol of the court, but Ethiopia is not one of those listed. Only five countries (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, and Tanzania) have to date made a declaration accepting the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Even if a decision made on Eskinder and Reeyot’s case in this court may be non-binding, it nonetheless can shed a crucial spotlight on the status of press freedom in Ethiopia.
Belwo is the IndieVoices crowdfunding campaign.