An Ethiopian Spring?: Page 3 of 3

By Eskinder Nega

There were piles of papers. A large yellow envelope was on one side. I heard there are many fabricated charges being cooked up in the attorney general’s office. I don’t worry about that. Fabricated charges seem nothing compared to the commissioner’s death threat.

“Listen!” the commissioner continues, picking up from where the deputy stopped. “Listen. Is this lawful?” He picks up a newspaper. 

I hadn’t seen that newspaper was there until he grabbed it. It is a copy of “New Talk” - last Tuesday’s paper. I am quoted as saying, “I believe there will be a problem if the ruling party (EPRDF) wants to finish its five-year term without election. -Eskindir Nega”. It is right there in the headline, highlighted with big bold letters.

“Yes!” I tell the police commissioner, trying to explain my intent in the comment. “We are following parliamentary system. According to our constitution, the parliament can be dissolved any time--”  

“This is illegal! How can this be constitutional? Dissolving parliament means terminating this government. This is anti-constitutional!” he yelled at me. “You incite the public to rebel against the constitution!”   

Then he said it again: “Listen, Eskinder, we have finished. We have called you here to give you this last warning. Are you listening?” The commissioner is yelling again. He waves his index finger at me and continues:

"Be careful! Be careful!" He stresses the word twice, waving his index finger at me again.

“I am done!” says the commissioner now. He starts collecting the printouts from his desk, and I stand up.

"Can I go now?” I ask. 


“Thank you,” I say, and open the door next to me.

The policeman who brought me to the commissioner's office rushes over and stands at the door. He is holding all my papers.

“Get him out of here,” says the commissioner. 

“Here are additional papers; we found them when we searched him,” the policeman says, handing over my papers to the commissioner.

I stand behind the policeman and look over his shoulder. The commissioner takes the papers. They are all written in English. The commissioner just scans the papers and hands them to the deputy. They will no doubt increase the “evidence” against me.

“You can go,” says the commissioner again. It’s an order.

It looks like all my writings have been expropriated. The policeman closes the door carefully and gives me back my other items. Before we leave the room, the commissioner suddenly opens the office door and catches us:



“What is your phone number?” 

The deputy is ready to write my number. I tell him. He writes it. 

 The commissioner returns to his office. 

The policeman is in front of me, and I follow him downstairs.

“Where are you going?” the policeman asks me after he receives the gun he’d checked. 

“To Piassa,” I reply. “Are you going there too?”

“No,” he says. “You will go half way with us.”

When we get inside the car, I sit next to the driver and the policeman with the radio sits next to me.

"Wasn’t it peaceful?’’ he says as we prepare to depart from the Federal Police Commission building.

“You are my lucky charm!” I tell him, smiling.

“How’s that?” he asks. He appears to be astounded. 

“I thought you would take me to jail, but here we go; you are taking me to where I belong.”

The policeman with radio laughs hard. Anybody can tell he is laughing from the bottom of his bottom. Even the solemn looking driver smiles now for the first time. 

“We will drop him at the National Theatre” the policeman tells to the driver. The driver starts the car, in a peaceful way this time, and we leave the building behind us. We drive out of Mexico Square and reach the Wabi Shebele Hotel.

“Did you understand each other?” the policeman with radio asks me politely. 

“The main thing is that we do not kill each other because of our differences,” I say. 

He does not reply, but simply nods his head up and down. I also observe the driver; he is focused on the road – a road with so many automobiles. 

“Several youngsters paid with scarification for us not to kill each other,” I continue.

He doesn’t respond immediately. 

“We are all a children from one country,” he says after a few seconds of silence. “We are all human beings. Political differences can be resolved by peaceful dialogue, and we don’t have to kill each other.”

Anybody could feel that statement came from the bottom of his heart.

We are arriving at the back of the National Theatre, and they drop me off there. I find a taxi, then, and head to Piassa.

When I arrive at Piassa, I take deep breathe. The air is fresh and pleasant. And of course, the policeman words are still touching my heart. 

We have hope! 

Eskinder Naga remains confined in Kaliti prison - the same prison where he was visited by Charlayne Hunter-Gault and her CPJ colleagues, and where his wife gave birth to their son, Nafkot, during their previous imprisonment. The piece was translated by Eskinder's friend, fellow journalist and editor Dawit Kebede Weyessa, who'd been arrested 18 times before leaving the country. Dawit, now living in the United States, is one of the founders of the Ethiopian Media Forum (EMF) providing daily news, analysis and discussion from Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. 

"Eskinder is a huge optimist," Dawit said of his friend. "He believes in the peaceful exchange of ideas, and was dedicated to the building of a new democracy in Ethiopia...He will never ask for a pardon if it involves admitting a crime. Eskinder has never been involved in any form of violence in his life, and he considers being accused of terrorism is a ridiculous attempt at intimidation. His last words to the Court at sentencing were straight from the heart: 'As a citizen and a journalist, I have written what I felt. Now, it could cost everything, but I am ready to pay with that sacrifice. I wish peace, democracy, unity and love for all people.'"

In May, Eskinder was awarded with the PEN American Center Freedom to Write/Barbara Goldsmith award. The following video was produced by PEN in honor for the award ceremony, included here with PEN's generous permission. 



PEN's backgrounder page on the case can be found here: 

CPJ's brief on Eskinder's sentencing can be found here:





  • Ethiopian forever
    September 19, 2012
    Thanks for sharing Dawit. I'm not a good writer so i do not write lot, i just wanted to say Eskinder is my hero, who stands for what he belives even though he is paying his life for it. I hope one day Eskinder and those who are imprisoned for there beliefs will be free and We ETHIOPIANS will live as an ETHIOPIA not as party supporters. Ethiopia was one, is one and will be one. Segregation based on nation and nationalities is not in the heart of the Ethiopian people, but only in the heart of the woyane rulers. ETHIOPIA forever, "ETHIOPIA TABESHE EDEWIHA HABE EGZIABHER"