By Girma Berhanu (Professor)
August 14, 2020
Eskinder Nega is a well-known journalist, political activist and most-discussed political prisoner recognized globally for a quarter of a century. He is the founder and leader of the opposition party, Balderas for True Democracy. He was described by the international media as a leading advocate for press freedom and freedom of expression in Ethiopia. He has been in and out of prison over a period of 20 years under two regimes, including TPLF/EPRDF and ODP/ EPRDF [Prosperity party]. He has been jailed over 10 times by the Ethiopian government on convictions for treason, “outrages against the constitution”, and “incitement to armed conspiracy”, among others. In the past two years, he was arrested and harassed a number of times by Addis Ababa police and security forces for unspecified reasons. At times, he and his codefendants were accused of displaying a prohibited national flag and gathering in violation of an official state of emergency. The accusations are too numerous to mention all here. Amnesty International once designated him a prisoner of conscience, “detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression”. Currently he is back to prison again.
He was the editor of the newspapers Etopis, Satenaw, Asqual and Menelik. He received several international awards for his passionate writings, dedication and bravery in the face of tyranny and continuous harassment. He was dubbed a fearless journalist and campaigner for democracy!
In this reflective report, I am not going to write about his family background, education, or the terrible pain he and his family has gone through. This history is available elsewhere. I am more interested in why he is troubled by the political elites. Why is he perceived as a threat and ‘troublemaker’ by the establishment? What are the political elites scared of? When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – the Nobel Peace Prize winner – used strong and threatening language for the first time, he did it against the soft-spoken Eskinder. What is it about Eskinder that gets under the skin of these autocratic leaders so that they continue to harass him? The truth? What is the cost of telling the truth? Losing friends. Losing allies. Losing freedom. Losing colleagues. Losing family lives, losing influence. Losing, losing, losing. How should we pursue the truth in a world that has no tolerance for facts that contradict our preferred narratives?
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