Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist imprisoned on terrorism charges in 2011, has been awarded the Golden Pen of Freedom as an “emblem of Ethiopia’s struggle” and a symbol of solidarity with jailed journalists around the world.
In an emotional speech, Martin Schibbye, who accepted the award on Nega’s behalf having spent time in the same prison on similar charges, said: “It is not us fighting for his freedom, but he who is fighting for ours. Stay strong Eskinder.”
Nega is serving an 18-year sentence for charges of terrorism.
Presenting the award, Erik Bjerager, president of WAN-IFRA, said Nega’s crime was “to have challenged the same laws used to imprison him”..
The imprisonment is an “unforgettable warning to every working journalist and editor that the fight to create a just and free society comes with a heavy price,” Bjerager said.
While the government tried to paint Nega as a “rabble rouser”, he added, “other journalists and articles portray a writer who has campaigned only for peaceful change”.
Nega was first imprisoned while working as editor of the newspaper Satenaw following the 2005 Ethiopian general elections – which were widely believed to have been rigged – for speaking out against the incumbent regime.
He was convicted of treason and sentenced to 17 months imprisonment along with his wife Serkalem Fasil, who gave birth to their son in jail.
Nega was again imprisoned in 2011, this time on an 18-year sentence for terrorism. After seeing the Arab Spring protests, he suggested that the same could happen in Ethiopia if the regime refused to reform, and that Ethiopian people should “shun violence” to “bring the advent of the African Spring”, said Schibbye.
“Why should the rest of the world care?” said Bjerager, reading from one of Nega’s letters from prison. Quoting the Roman poet Horace, Nega wrote “Change only the name and this story is also about you.
“Where ever justice suffers, our common humanity suffers, too.”
Journalism.co.uk is reporting from the World Newspaper Congress in Torino. Follow @AlastairReid 3 and #editors14 for updates.
Martin Shibbye accepts the Golden Pen of Freedom award on behalf of Eskinder Nega. Photo by Alastair Reid
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