Online publisher and blogger Eskinder Nega has been imprisoned in Ethiopia since September 2011 for the “crime” of writing articles critical of his government. He is one of the longest-serving prisoners in EFF’s Offline casefile of writers and activists unjustly imprisoned for their work online.
Now a chance he may finally be freed has been thrown into doubt because of the Ethiopian authorities’ outrageous demand that he sign a false confession before being released.
The Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced in January surprise plans to close down the notorious Maekelawi detention center and release a number of prisoners. The Prime Minister said that the move was intended to “foster national reconciliation.”
While Ethiopia’s own officials have declined to call the recipients of the amnesty “political prisoners,” the bulk of the candidates named so far for release are either opposition politicians and activists, or others, like Eskinder, caught up in previous crackdowns on dissent and free speech.
Despite the government’s apparent desire to use the release to moderate tensions in Ethiopia, prison officials have undermined its message—and Eskinder’s chance at freedom—by requiring him to sign a false confession before his release.
The document, given to Eskinder without warning last week, included a claim that Eskinder was a member of Ginbot 7, a group the government has previously declared a terrorist organization. Eskinder refused to sign the document, and was subsequently returned to his cell, even as other prisoners were being released. The Committee to Protect Journalists subsequently told Quartz Africa that Eskinder was asked to sign the form a second time over the weekend.
EFF continues to follow Eskinder’s case closely, and urges the Ethiopian government to live up to its promise of a new era of reconciliation and renewal by returning Eskinder to his friends and family, unconditionally and immediately.