Ethiopian political blogger sentenced to 18 years in jail

An Ethiopian blogger and journalist was sentenced to 18 years in prison Friday, on charges of working to topple the government. His term was the harshest given to five journalists and one blogger, sentenced today in Addis Adaba.

A total of 23 people were found guilty of violating Ethiopia’s increasingly tough anti-terrorism legislation last month, the BBC reports. 

Eskinder Nega was arrested in September of last year, and was accused of attempting to engender violence with his blog, the New York Times said. Nega was awarded Pen American Center’s prestigious 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in April of this year.

Nega was found guilty in a courtroom packed with his friends and supporters, the BBC reports. But it wasn’t enough.

“The court has given due considerations to the charges and the sentences are appropriate,” said Judge Endeshaw Adane, speaking to Reuters about the case. 

Amnesty International publicly criticized the Ethiopian ruling, the New York Times reported. “The imprisonment… is emblematic of the Ethiopian government’s determination to gag any dissenting voice in the country,” said Amnesty International Ethiopia researcher Claire Beston. 

“The Ethiopian government is treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members.”

A vocal critic of the government since 1993 and detained seven times since according to BBC sources, Nega’s most recent conviction came after he published an article questioning governmental claims that detained journalists were all suspected of terrorist activity – accompanying an article in which he criticized the “terror” arrest of Ethiopian actor and dissenter Debebe Eshetu, PEN said.

“Nega’s critiques of the Zenawi government go back two decades, and in recent years he has written fearlessly about the need for peaceful democratic transition and about the fate of other journalists unjustly silenced under the pretense of fighting terrorism,” said Larry Siems, Freedom to Write Program Director, on Pen’s website.

“Now as he faces the same fate, in no small part because he spoke out on their behalf, he continues to press for freedom of expression from behind bars. He is truly an extraordinary individual and we are proud to be able to award him this honor.”

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