By Aklog Birara (Dr), former Senior Advisor, the World Bank, ret.
The accusation and incarceration of the renowned Ethiopian human rights and democratic
activist, humanist and journalist, Mr. Eskinder Nega, under the false pretext of inciting ethnic and religious violence in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and of terrorism is a travesty. The charges are patently untrue. The dictatorial regime that Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed replaced had charged Mr. Eskinder for similar crimes.
In 2012, Pen America, one of the most highly respected institutions that defends freedom of the press, had honored Eskinder Nega and his wife Serkalem Fasil and awarded him the “Freedom to Write.” The accolades granted to Mr. Eskinder occurred while he suffered in jail accused by the Government for terrorism and other crimes he never committed. To his credit,Prime Minister Abiy released Eskinder Nega and thousands of others.
In the considered opinion of millions of Ethiopians at home and around the world those familiar with Eskinder Nega and the values for which he stands and the circumstances of his latest incarceration along with his colleagues have nothing to do with “inciting ethnic and religious violence.” It has much more to do with his commitment to the democratic and human rights of the people of Addis Ababa, his determination that Ethiopia’s 115 million diverse population deserve to enjoy the rule of law and democratic governance, unbridled equality and access to socioeconomic opportunities; as well as the right to live and own property in any part of Ethiopia. Eskinder Nega is a strong voice for free press, democracy, and competitive elections in Ethiopia.
We should like to draw your attention that, behind Mr. Eskinder Nega’s imprisonment is an intense contest to grab lands, houses and other real property in Addis Ababa, and a deliberate push to change the demographic composition of this metropolitan city through political and social engineering. Further, his imprisonment denies the people of Addis Ababa of choices of competent and trusted leaders through the electoral process that is overdue.
We would like to appeal to human rights organizations, the Government of the United States and members the United States Congress, the European Parliament, the African Union as well
as the Government of Ethiopia currently led by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali to release
Mr. Eskinder Nega and six others of his team immediately and unconditionally for the following
1. The charges lodged against Eskinder Nega and his colleagues by Ethiopian Federal
Prosecutors accusing him and six others for crimes of “training a group of assassins” to
murder the acting Mayor of Addis Ababa and “inciting ethnic and religious violence”
with deliberate intent to take power in the capital is patently false, unbelievable and
outrageous. There is no credible corroborating evidence to support these charges.
- Ethiopians from all walks of life, human rights and democratic activists, the global
media, Pen America, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Freedom House,
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others know Mr. Eskinder Nega as a
deeply spiritual person, a democracy activist, a highly regarded journalist who believes
in freedom of the press. He was accused of “terrorism” before Prime Minister Abiy took
power; sentenced to 18 years; jailed for 6 years and released by Prime Minister Abiy in 2018.
After his release, Mr. Eskinder Nega founded a civil society organization, Balderas, in
Addis Ababa and defended the democratic rights of its multiethnic population to elect
their own officials. Tragically for them, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister appointed a Deputy
Mayor of the city solely on the basis of his ethnic affiliation as an Oromo; and his loyalty
to the Oromo People’s Democratic Party (OPDO) that has now morphed into the Oromo
Prosperity Party. The decision to charge Eskinder Nega is politically motivated.
Given his commitment to the rule of law and multiparty democracy in Ethiopia, Mr.
Eskinder Nega transformed the civic organization he initiated into the Balderas for
Democracy Party for which he was elected by the membership as leader of this new
- The Government of Ethiopia has an established record for arresting and charging
prominent political opponents, charging them for crimes they never committed and
supporting charges by deploying fake documents, wire taps, surveillance techniques and
recruiting witnesses and suppling them with “fake masks” and so on. For example,
among the charges lodged against Mr. Eskinder Nega and his associates is that they
“organized the training of a terrorist group in the town of Motta, East Gojjam Zone,
Amhara region, with the aim of assassinating former acting mayor Mr. Takele Uma and
other top officials” of the city of Addis Ababa.
6. These stunning and unfounded charges and the accusation that Mr. Eskinder Nega and
his associates plotted to “burn religious institutions to create chaos and destruction in
Addis Ababa” is designed to demonstrate falsely that they wanted to overthrow the city
government and take power.
7. These charges are politically motived to change the demography of Addis Ababa. The
propagation of false and misleading stories and narratives in Addis Ababa and across
Ethiopia following the assassination of a famous Oromo artist in Addis Ababa has no
relationship to the accused. Fourteen innocent civilians were killed in the city alone; and
more than 187 million Birr of property was destroyed. Mr. Eskinder Nega and his
associates have nothing to do with these atrocities.
- It is well known in Addis Ababa that, since his appointment by the Prime Minister as
Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, Mr. Takele Umma, a confidante of the Prime Minster,
has been issuing identify cards liberally and illegally and granting vacant lands and
condominiums to members of the Oromo nationality group illegally; and that members
of Balderas and supporters have been complaining against these illegal transactions that
are intended to change the demographic composition of the city through, among other
measures, forcible evictions of innocent and poor civilians and through outright land
We believe that peace, security, and the rule of law in Ethiopia will be best served by releasing
Mr. Eskinder Nega and his associates immediately and unconditionally. The decision by Prime
Minister Abiy Ahmed to charge these democratic and human rights activists for crimes they
never committed in the first place, and to support these outrageous charges by deploying false
evidence and witnesses is an absolute sham. These charges erode public confidence in the rule
of law and the judicial system. They also deepen ethnic and religious polarization in Ethiopia.
We believe that holding any election in the city of Addis Ababa; and or in the rest of Ethiopia
while holding potential political competitors in jail is a travesty. It makes a mockery of elections.
It subverts Ethiopia’s efforts to democratize its governance. It diminishes the prospect for
peace, security, and stability in the country. The public will not trust elections, elected officials
We genuinely believe that Ethiopia’s judicial system should not be used to pressure public
servants and witnesses to arrive at desired outcomes using the law.
Finally, we are aghast and dismayed with the abuse of power and the total disregard of the rule
of law in Ethiopia.
In the light of the foregoing we have begun “A Free Eskinder Nega” campaign with the hope
that the Government of Ethiopia will listen to global pressure; and release him and his
associates immediately and unconditionally.