An opinion by the United Nations five-member panel of experts published this week has slammed the repressive government of Ethiopia for labelling prominent columnist Eskinder Nega a ‘dangerous criminal’, and keeping him in jail for almost two years now, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on Friday.
An Ethiopian judge in Addis Ababa sentenced Nega to 18 years in prison in July 2012, accusing him of writing ‘articles that incited the public to bring the North African and Arab uprisings to Ethiopia’.
In the opinion, the experts detailed several breaches of Nega’s rights, from his arrest without warrant and allegations of mistreatment in pre-trial detention, to a flawed prosecution and trial that fell short of international standards of fairness, CPJ said.
Many judges and magistrates in Africa have become ‘prostitutes’ of ruling parties and governments, which pay them an ‘extra-salary’ to close their independent eyes.
Some even attend ruling parties’ meetings and receive material benefits such as piles of cash, farmland, houses and luxury cars to side with the government of the day.
So, it is not surprising that Nega, a fearless government critic, is still in jail since September 2011.
But the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention panel ruled that Nega was only exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Many African countries have ‘beautiful’ pieces of Constitution, which allow various freedoms and fundamental rights, including media freedom and freedom of expression, but the harsh reality is that anyone who attempts to enjoy these rights is quickly subdued and put behind bars, and sometimes killed.
Nega is among those who believe that the freedom of expression is not a privilege, but a right.
The panel’s opinion, handed down in 2012, was only publicised this week by the Washington DC-based legal advocacy group Freedom Now, CPJ East Africa consultant Tom Rhodes said.
However, two million-dollar questions surround the Nega saga:
1. Why the panel of experts’ opinion, handed down last year, has only been made public this week?
2. What impact will this ‘old’ ruling have on the Nega saga – will it change the Addis-Ababa government’s mind?
“It is our sincere hope that the government will look closely at the opinion and come to the same conclusion as the Working Group,” Freedom Now attorney Patrick Griffith was quoted by the CPJ website as saying.
Nairobi-based Rhodes urges Ethiopia – a member of the UN Human Rights Council – to comply with international law and release Nega immediately and unconditionally.
Ethiopia is one of the biggest media jailers in Africa. CPJ said the Horn of Africa country has currently six journalists behind bars, some without charge.
*Photo by Lennart Kjörling. Ethiopian fearless government critic Eskinder Nega.