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Jailed journalist Eskinder Nega wins Press Freedom award

Imprisoned journalist and prisoner of conscience Eskinder Nega has recently won the World Association of Newspapers’ Golden Pen of Freedom award. The award is given to a person, a group of people, or an institution who in deed or writing has been working in the cause of press freedom.

In his writing, Eskinder criticized Ethiopia’s use of the anti-terrorism legislation. The legislation, which came into effect in 2009,  has been misused many times, and journalists have been claimed to be terrorists. Many of them have been imprisoned. Eskinder had also suggested that something similar to the Arabic Spring might happen in Ethiopia. Arrested in 2011, Eskinder is currently serving a sentence of 18 years in the Kality prison in Addis Ababa.

Both Eskinder and his wife has earlier been imprisoned for their work for justice and press freedom. Eskinder has been jailed nine times. He knew that he was risking another jail sentence – but the love for his people and his country made him continue his work.

He chose not to run – he chose courage. But for this, he and his wife and son payed with his freedom.

Today, he is living under horrifying circumstances in the notorious Kality prison. Most prisoners do not have a bed; they are sleeping at a cold concrete floor. Food is scarce and the water has to be boiled in order to be safe to drink. The prison is full of lice, fleas and rats, and one can often hear the screaming of prisoners being tortured. In a letter to his eight year son, Eskinder writes:

“ … The pain is almost physical. But in this plight of our family is embedded hope of a long suffering people. There is no greater honour. We must bear any pain, travel any distance, climb any mountain, cross any ocean to complete this journey to freedom. Anything less is impoverishment of our soul. God bless you, my son. You will always be in my prayers.” (Source)

eskinder_nega_and_sonEskinder together with his eight-year-old son. Image source: Tadias.

Eskinder stood up for imprisoned journalists, questioned the government and criticized the law. In a world where journalists are claimed to be terrorists – and are being silenced, threatened, harassed and imprisoned – the work of Eskinder Nega is more important than ever. He is a role model for a new generation of young people who sees it their calling to stand up against injustice.

The journalistic deed will continue, because it can never be jailed.

The Golden Pen award is not only an acknowledgement of Eskinder’s journalistic deed, and for enduring more than a thousand days in jail, but it is also an acknowledgement of the importance of press freedom. The award shows that anyone who is defending freedom of expression, and is viewing human rights as something inviolable, is doing something honorable.

Today, Eskinder will know that he is not forgotten. Today, he will know that the world is standing behind him. Today, he will go with his head held high.

Thank you, Eskinder, for fighting for our freedom.


Melody Sundberg

The family of Eskinder Nega asked Martin Schibbye to honor Eskinder and accept the award on his behalf. You can read Martins’ speech here.