The Case of Eskinder Nega By William Easterly, Mark Hamrick, Aryeh Neier, Kenneth Roth, and Joel Simon

December 23rd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

To the Editors:

On September 14, 2011, Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and dissident blogger, was arrested by the Ethiopian authorities shortly after publishing an online column calling for an end to torture in Ethiopian prisons, a halt to the imprisonment of dissidents, and respect for freedom of expression. The charges against him are punishable by death, and carry a minimum sentence of fifteen years in prison,1 where both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch warn that he is at risk of torture.

Previous to his current arrest, Eskinder and his wife Serkalem Fasil, both newspaper publishers, were charged with treason following Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 elections, along with dozens of journalists, human rights activists, and opposition leaders, and spent seventeen months in jail. While in custody, Serkalem gave birth to their first child. Even after they were acquitted by Ethiopia’s Federal High Court, Eskinder and Serkalem were blocked from reopening their newspapers and the government continued to pursue civil charges against them.2

Eskinder also was detained earlier this year, after he published an online column asking members of the security services not to shoot unarmed demonstrators—as they did in 2005—in the event that the “Arab Spring” should spread to Ethiopia.3

Most of us would have fled into exile after such treatment—as have nearly all of Ethiopia’s significant opposition leaders and independent journalists since 2005. In all, eleven independent journalists and bloggers have been charged with terrorism this year, five of whom are behind bars. Ethiopia tops Iran and Cuba to lead the world in the number of journalists who have been forced into exile over the past decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.4

Having spent a large part of his childhood in suburban Washington, D.C., and being in possession of a US residence permit, Eskinder could have easily followed. That he has not is testimony to his commitment to democratic values that Western governments say they hold dear.

America and its Western allies have aligned themselves closely with Ethiopia’s government in the fight against radical Islamists in the Horn of Africa and in efforts to prevent a repeat of the 1984–1985 famine. Worthy as these goals are, we should not allow them to blind us to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s increasingly authoritarian bent—as exhibited by his regime’s 99.6 percent election victory in 2010 and most recently the decision to prosecute Eskinder as a terrorist, along with seven other dissidents.5

We therefore call on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and America’s Western allies to publicly repudiate Ethiopia’s efforts to use terrorism laws to silence political dissent. We also urge the US to ensure that our more than $6006 million in aid to Ethiopia is not used to foster repression.7

William Easterly
Professor of Economics
Co-Director, Development
Research Institute
New York University
New York City

Mark Hamrick
National Press Club
Washington, D.C.

Aryeh Neier
Open Society Foundations
New York City

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch
New York City

Joel Simon
Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists
New York City

  1. koster
    | #1

    If there was justice in this World, Meles should have gone to jail. Unfortunately the WEST talk of peace but they love war, they speak of democracy but in reality they love “friendly tyrants” from Mobutu, Mubarek to MELES. It is this double standard of the WEST which is endangering peace in this world. Please say to woyane/Meles state terrorism and ethnic politics in Ethiopia. ESKINDER NEGA is hope for the millions who are languishing under woyane state terrorism. He is paying great sacrifice under woyane torture chamber for my freedom and the freedom of my children and grand children. Thank you ESKINDER NEGA. It is a matter of time that Meles pays for all the crimes he committed. If not by the International Court of Justice, he will face the justice of the Ethiopian people and end up like the last communist leader of ROMANIA.

  2. koster
    | #2


  3. Gizat
    | #3

    Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia = Gadafi of Libya. At least Gadafi chage better Libyan people economy. But pm Meles of Ethiopia can not change his people economically. Only few his group and families made themselves wealthy. Even majority Ethiopians have not daily bread. When USA and western countries gave(sent) food aid officials grab it for themselves, some time people received 1/4 of total aid. Or they give only for Meles’s regime supporter. Pm Zenawi is the first dictator all over the world.this is true 100%. They talk about democracy but it is fake for westerns attention. Practically less than zero. Political activists and journalists are tortured , killed, diappeared, robed their properties and so on. Almighty God give freedom, justice for Ethiopian people in your holly spirit please, only you are a solution and forgiveness, USA and Western gov’ts are selfish who don’t care about human rights of Ethiopia because Ethiopia has not fuel like Libya.

  4. Gigi
    | #4

    Dear New York and Washington, if we don’t have wrights to hold peaceful demonstrations, what do you suggest
    We should do? And telling the police not hurt peaceful demonstrators is a crime? How do we say no to the Ethiopian
    government when we think they are wrong? Majority of the Ethiopian people didn’t agree with them since they took
    Power which is 20 years now. And they stole peoples votes in the last two election and imprisoning oppositions and
    And people who doesnt support them. And they are calling Ethiopian people terrorists if they don’t support them.

    What do we got to do with terrorism? What do we got to do being called a terrorist when we oppose the government?
    Do they even talk about on their media when Ethiopia christians or any Ethiopians get attacked by Musilim fundamentalists or terrorists in the name of religion and who are the so called judges and so on in the Ethiopian
    Courts? Aren’t those Musilim people. How can we trust them when it comes to their justification and ordeal?

    This cases are base less to even our knowledge besides what evidences they can present in this hearings but it almost
    Feels like it is the court who are suing this people which is bizarre. They to defend a ligations of this Ethiopian journalists by the government at all time. Well they are the government who are at opposition comp some time acting
    Like an opposition and can set up people as what ever because some one have seen you with them.

    Some body told me some years ago, your father almost got arrested, and I ask why? And the answer was, because
    He was seen with one of the opposition politician, and I again ask why, aren’t this people being on the national TV
    For months trying to get elected? So what is the crime to be seen with this people? And the answer was,,,,,,I don’t know
    I think they are worst than the Durgs”.

    We demand the release of all political prisoners in Ethiopia!
    We demand press freedom!
    We demand free and fair election!

    If this actions are not taken, we will demand the removal of the EPRDF and TPLF. By any means necessary. Enough is enough.

  5. Tehsome New
    | #5

    I am delighted to see the name a renowned Economists Bill easterly name on this petition, I am also grateful to all of them that they give attention to matter which is not of their primary preoccupation. It is encouraging to see that the world is not full hypocrites like Stigliz and Sachs. As for the American Government, I have given up my hope on it, for the better.

  6. Atakilti
    | #6

    I have expressed my disagreement with the Government of Ethiopia in the arrest and trial of Mr. Eskinder from its outset. I have read some of the articles written by this person on this or other websites and found nothing of material suggesting any terrorism in their messages or contents. I politely asked the office of PM Meles to release Ato Eskinder and also provide him with means so he can support his family. As a father myself, I have been very saddened just thinking how that angelic toddler can be emotionally tormented because no one would be able to really explain to him what happened to his dad. Officials at the higher echelons should sift through some of these accusations to make sure that they were not logged by too enthusiastic agents at the street level. I can understand that Ethiopia is a very fragile union where trouble-making groups are poised at periphery to stir chaos and unprecedented bloodshed and such mistake will fall smack into the hands of their propaganda machinations. I hope the judges will exonerate this innocent citizen as soon as possible. And as I said before I don’t know about the other individuals because I never heard about them. Again, I politely ask the Government of Ethiopia to cut Ato Eskinder loose as soon as the case comes to a close.
    As always, I thank the editors of this website in posting my comment. In the meanwhile, my wife and I along with rest of my family would like to wish you all my dear countrymen here abroad and back home A Merry Christmas and a rewarding New Year!!!!

  7. አባ ጦቢያ
    | #7

    በወያኔ አሸባሪ ተብሎ መመድብ መባረክ ነው.እውነተኛ የኢትዮጵያ ልጅ መሆን ነውና. አባባሌ እንዲገባችው, ፋሺስት ኢጣሊያ አበበ አረጋይን ሸበረኝ ብሎ ሲያወራ አስቡ.

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