Journalist in Exile Receives Human Rights Award

As recognition for his work promoting free expression in Ethiopia, Mesfin Negash, together with 40 other journalists and writers, has received the Hellman/Hammett award for 2012. The award is administrated by Human Rights Watch and given to writers who are subject to political persecution and human rights abuses. After being threatened by the authorities, Mesfin Negash fled Ethiopia in 2009 and today he continues his work in exile for human rights from Sweden.

Four journalists from Ethiopia, one of the most repressive countries in the world regarding Freedom of Expression, were awarded the Hellman/Hammett-prize for 2012. All four have been convicted under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law and three of them, Eskinder Nega Fenta (blogger and independent journalist), Reeyot Alemu Gobebo (who worked for the disbanded weekly newspaper Feteh) och Woubshet Taye Abebe (who worked for the now closed weekly newspaper Awramba Times), are imprisoned.

According to Mesfin Negash, violations against journalists and other human rights defenders have become more systematic in Ethiopia since 2005 when the government started using the criminal justice system to ensure control:

“Everybody knows that terrorism is a phony charge,” Mesfin Negash said in an earlier interview with Civil Rights Defenders.

To work as an independent critical journalist in Ethiopia he compares to going into a jungle full of dangerous predators:

“You don’t know their rules, their territory and their expectations. Whenever they feel like it, you will be a victim”.

Mesfin Negash, who was Editor of the independent weekly newspaper Addis Neger, fled Ethiopia after receiving information that he was to be accused of supporting terrorist activities and undermining the Constitution. In February 2012 Mesfin Negash was granted asylum in Sweden and later the same year he was convicted in Ethiopia, in absentia, to eight years in prison for supporting terrorism. From Sweden Mesfin Negash continues to work for human rights in his native country.

Mesfin Negash was portrayed in Civil Rights Defenders campaign “Human Rights Defender of the Month” in May.