Imprisoned Ethiopian journalist and publisher Eskinder Nega.
(photo courtesy of World News)
“I am Eskinder Nega. Like my hero Nelson Mandela, my soul is unconquered, my spirit unbroken, my head unbowed, and my heart unafraid.”—Eskinder Nega from I Am Eskinder Nega
Change is one of the scariest things in the world and yet it is also one of those variables of human existence that no one can avoid. One may literally find the lessons of that simple observation all over the map at this halfway point in the year 2012–– and only a few months before Americans take their collective political fate into their own hands during one of the most intense presidential elections on historical record.
From such a perspective, it matters less whether you look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions to skillfully dissect Arizona’s (and by extension similar states’) Illegal Immigration Law, and then largely uphold President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as victories for one group over another. What is clear in either case is that the paradigm rhythms of change are very much in progress in this second decade of the 21st century.
Freedom of Expression and Eskinder Nega
Stepping outside the United States into the larger global village, the nature of change has caused government officials in Ethiopia to place themselves in a precarious position where the court of public opinion is concerned. Specifically, officials there recently convicted some half a dozen journalists (plus 18 other individuals) of terrorism based primarily––so far as observers have been able to tell––on blogs and editorials.
The main offenses committed through these writings was that the authors: addressed the events of the Arab Spring, questioned the accuracy of election outcomes, and examined governmental criteria for classifying individuals as terrorists. Among those convicted on June 27 was publisher and journalist Eskinder Nega, recipient of the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.
The PEN American Center, part of PEN International, has long been an advocate for freedom of written expression. Upon learning of Nega’s conviction, the organization joined with the following to protest of the ruling: Amnesty International, Committee to Free Eskinder Nega, Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom Now, Human Rights Watch, International Press Institute, Media Legal Defence Initiative, National Press Club, and the World Association of Newspapers and Newspaper Publishers.
Their statement read in part: “The conviction represents the criminalization of peaceful dissent in Ethiopia and is a clear violation of the rights to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.”
At present, Eskinder Nega is set to receive his sentence on July 13. At least one prosecutor has requested he receive a life sentence. It is a sad twist of bitter irony that Nega’s son was actually born in prison while his wife, fellow journalist Serkalem Fasil, was previously under arrest for her writings.
Nega’s case in fact, by nearly all accounts, is not atypical in Ethiopia. It nevertheless is one which disturbs many in the international community because of the country’s status as a major recipient of public service provisions and humanitarian aid. In short, it is painfully difficult to reconcile images of people dying from starvation and illness in Ethiopia with that of journalists undergoing persecution for blogging truthfully about their lives. In one such blog, Nega noted the following:
“This being Ethiopia, though, leaders seldom enjoy the privilege of honest advice from subordinates... By the power tradition, leaders are told what they want to hear not what they should… The rule in this world is simple: Thrive with opportunism and sophistry. Perish with honesty and integrity.”
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co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
and ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love
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