The Ethiopian Young Professionals Chapter of Amnesty International held a candlelight vigil at the African-American Civil War Memorial in the Nation's Capital Friday evening to draw attention to what has been called "extreme intolerance to dissent" in Ethiopia. Freedom of expression in their homeland is considered difficult, if at all possible.
The event marks to the day one year ago when prominent Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega was arrested for expressing views not favorable to the government of Ethiopia. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison on July 13th of this year. The vigil called for Nega's release and all journalists who remain in prison for expressing anti-government views.
Attending the vigil were journalists who worked alongside and became friends with Nega. They addressed the gathered crowd of 40-50 people including Maran Turner who is Executive Director of Freedom Now, a group who works on individual cases for prisoners of conscience. Freedom Now is working on behalf of Nega.
[Eskinder] was basically whisked away. He had no access to family for a month," Turner stated as she described the details of Nega's arrest and prosecution. "He didn't have access to a lawyer for two months. He was then prosecuted in a trial that was absolutely shameful from every perspective in terms of his due process rights."
Turner went on to explain that over 100 people have been detained since 2009 under an anti-terrorist law which was instituted by the government. It is believed the law is used against those who speak out against the government. Nega was convicted under these laws, with the claim he was calling for terrorism against the government. These laws have been attacked by the United States government and global human rights agencies.
"We're all here today working for his freedom, his release, and I can't thank all of you enough to be out here," Turner added. "It's critical that we free people like Eskinder. Eskinder is not alone by any means. There are many, many prisoners unfortunately in Ethiopia that are wrongly imprisoned."
Also speaking was Ethiopian human rights activist Darara Gubo. He reminded the crowd that Ethiopia does have certain rights for freedom of expression established within their constitution. He said, however, those rights cannot be exercised without consequences.
"Unfortunately we don't see them being processed in our country," Gubo spoke. "So it's very important that we all join hands to pressure the government of Ethiopia to respect its own constitutional arrangements and principals."
"I call upon the government of Ethiopia to release all prisoners of conscience, all the people who are being imprisoned without due process of law," Gubo added.
The group is planning additional events in the future to address this issue. A petition is also being circulated calling for the release of Nega. Further information about the efforts to free Eskinder Nega can be found at: http://www.freeeskindernega.com