Eskinder Nega, a journalist and dissident blogger based in Addis Ababa, is one of Ethiopia’s leading advocates for press freedom and freedom of expression. Eskinder has been publishing articles critical of the government since 1993, when he opened his first newspaper, Ethiopis, which was soon shut down by authorities. He was a general manager of Serkalem Publishing House, which published the newspapers Asqual, Satenaw, and Menelik, all of which are now banned in Ethiopia. Eskinder has also been a columnist for the monthly magazine Change and for the U.S.-based news forum EthioMedia, which are also banned. He has continued to publicly call for an end to political corruption and repression despite being continuously harassed and denied a license to practice journalism.
Eskinder Nega was arrested under Ethiopia’s sweeping anti-terrorism legislation on September 14, 2011, after he published a column questioning the government’s claim that a number of journalists it had detained were suspected terrorists, and for criticizing the arrest of well-known Ethiopian actor and government critic Debebe Eshetu on terror charges earlier that week. Eskinder was accused of affiliation with the banned political party Ginbot 7, and state television portrayed him and other political prisoners as “spies for foreign forces.”
Eskinder had previously been detained at least six times under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government over the past two decades. In February 2011, he was briefly detained for “attempts to incite Egyptian and Tunisian-like protests in Ethiopia.” In 2005, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem Fasil a journalist and newspaper publisher were jailed along with 12 other journalists for treason for reporting on the government’s violent crackdown following disputed parliamentary elections—a crackdown that included firing on protesters and mass closures of media outlets, Ms Fasil later gave birth to a son with no pre-natal care in her very small and crowded cell , Eskinder was banned from publishing his newspaper–named Satenaw, and denied a license to launch a new publication. But, this didn’t stop him from speaking out. He was able to write his dissenting views online, until he got arrested.
Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law, which criminalizes any reporting deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes which the government considers to be “terrorist,” has been widely criticized both for its vague terms and for its application. As Eskinder Nega himself was insisting at the time he was arrested, the law has been used to imprison a number of leading journalists.
In response to a petition filed by Freedom Now, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found the detention of Mr. Nega to be a violation of international law. In calling for Mr. Nega’s immediate release, the Working Group held that the government violated his right to freedom of expression and failed to observe minimum international due process standards.