Jailed journalist: ‘I will never hesitate from criticizing’
CNN international highlight Ethiopian journalist Dawit Kebede on the weekly African voices edition.
(CNN) — Sharing a communal cell with 350 other prisoners, Ethiopian journalist Dawit Kebede spent 21 months in a crammed jail, losing his freedom for speaking his mind.
That was his penalty for writing an editorial criticizing the Ethiopian government after the post-election violence that rocked the country in 2005.
But while many of his colleagues left the country after they gained their freedom, Kebede decided to stay.
He became the editor of one of Ethiopia’s only independent newspapers, with his commitment to his trade earning him an International Press Freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
“It’s my belief that getting outside or preferring exile and living under such repressive situations are the same form, because as far as I go in exercising my professional duty abroad, that doesn’t replace the ultimate freedom that I need in my entire life,” says Kebede.
In 2005, Ethiopia held one of the most important elections in its recent history. Despite a clear victory for the opposition party, the country’s government, which had been in power for 14 years, claimed victory before the results were announced
As a result, rioting broke out and hundreds of people were killed as the police and the military opened fire on protesters.
Determined to report what happened in the aftermath of the election, Kebede wrote a piece criticizing the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
“Supporters of the main opposition’s party protested, because of the election results, so the government massacred nearly 200 protesters,” says Kebede.
“I asked why people lost their lives while peacefully protesting an election,” he adds.
“Unfortunately, the government arrested me (and) the senior leaders of the main oppositional party, and I was charged with dozens of charges — genocide, attempt to subvert the constitutional system, high treason and nearly seven counts.”
Kebede, along with other journalists, was sentenced to life in prison by an Ethiopian court but after almost two years he was released by presidential pardon.