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Honoring a Courageous Imprisoned Ethiopian Journalist

Elias Wondimu is an exiled journalist from Ethiopia and director of the Marymount Institute Press, the publishing arm of LMU’s Marymount Institute of Faith, Culture and the Arts. He recently accepted an award from the International Women’s Media Foundation on behalf of imprisoned journalist Reeyot Alemu, whom he had nominated for the award. Below are his thoughts about the experience.

The International Women’s Media Foundation recently gave its prestigious 2012 Courage in Journalism award to Reeyot Alemu, one of the few female journalists in Ethiopia. I had the honor and privilege to accept the award on her behalf because she is imprisoned by the Ethiopian government under its sweeping anti-terrorism law. 

reeyotIn her statement from prison to the IWMF, Reeyot said, “Shooting the people who march through the streets demanding freedom and democracy; jailing the opposition party leaders and journalists … preventing freedom of speech, association and the press; corruption and domination of one tribe are some of the bad doings of our government. I knew that I would pay the price for my courage [to report] and I was ready to accept that price.”

Reeyot, a former columnist for Awramba Times (forced to shut down by the Ethiopian government in 2011) and the Amharic weekly Feteh (now blocked), was arrested for her investigative reporting and columns critical of government policies. The Committee to Protect Journalists wrote, “Writing critical columns about the government is not a criminal offense and is certainly not a terrorist act – Reeyot should be released immediately.”

Reeyot was working as a high school English teacher in Addis Ababa when she began contributing part-time to local independent newspapers and writing opinion articles critical of government policies. She knew that the men in power might take action against her. But Reeyot could not have imagined that her work would bring international recognition.

In nominating Reeyot for the award, I was motivated by the belief that the world should know about the courage, sacrifices and suffering of young Ethiopian journalists and how they have become role models for an entire generation of young people. I am one of about 150 exiled journalists who have left Ethiopia in the past two decades. One of the tasks I have taken on is to be a voice for voiceless journalists in Ethiopia. I have worked closely with PEN USA, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Women’s Media Foundation. I am privileged to have the opportunity to be able to nominate several Ethiopian journalists who have been honored.

Standing on the stage accepting Reeyot’s award, I felt a tremendous sense of optimism, confidence and hope in the future for press freedom in Ethiopia. I believe many young Ethiopian women will follow in Reeyot’s footsteps and uphold the cause of free expression and free press in Ethiopia, because without a free press, there is no free society.

Click here to see the IWMF’s citation honoring Reeyot Alemu and her statement accepting the award.