A recent court ruling for an award-winning journalist shows the terrifying truth about online life in Ethiopia: If you use the Internet to write in favor of democracy, you could be imprisoned for terrorism.
Eskinder Nega, who founded four since-shuttered newspapers, continues to serve an18-year prison sentence for blogging on a news site called Ethiomedia—the self-proclaimed "Ethiopian people's No. 1 pro-democracy website."
According to an Ethiopian court, Nega's articles—readily available online—"incited the public to bring the North African and Arab uprisings to Ethiopia." In 2012, the court sentenced him to prison. On Thursday, a court reaffirmed that sentence, along with its corresponding charges of participating in a terrorist organization and planning a terrorist act.
Those charges have been resoundingly condemned by press freedom organizations, Internet freedom advocates, the United States, and the U.N. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, the ruling seems contrary to Ethiopia's constitution, which states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of expression without any interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice.
In a statement Nega prepared for a rally in his honor in 2012, he expressed confidence that Ethiopia's laws would eventually change:
"Freedom is partial to no race. Freedom has no religion. Freedom favors no ethnicity. Freedom discriminates not between rich and poor countries. Inevitably, freedom will overwhelm Ethiopia."
Screengrab via PENamericancenter/YouTube