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Back You are here: Home Features A deserved freedom award to Ethiopia journalist Reyoot Alemu

A deserved freedom award to Ethiopia journalist Reyoot Alemu

Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu has won the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. UNESCO on its website indicated that Ms. Alemu was recommended by an independent international jury of media professionals in recognition of her “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.”

The prize for Reeyot is a merited one. She is a highly remarkable emblem for freedom of expression in Ethiopia. At a time when many journalists have succumbed to pressures from a range of interest groups both financial, and political, Reeyot has maintained her independence and professionalism. She is matchless and top end professional who did not succumb to either exile and or silence.

As an independent journalist, Reeyot has written many articles focusing on Ethiopia’s two- decade long policy of denying members of the independent press the right to freedom of expression. Reyoot started her journalism career as a columnist with Feteh newspaper, which was later shut down by the authorities. Then she established her own publication named “Change, which is also closed. In order to continue writing and circumvent the Government censors, Reyoot became a columnist for various online media. People used to read Reyoot’s journalistic and opinion pieces with enthusiasm before her imprisonment. Most of her works are great journalistic pieces. Despite a number of barriers to disconnect Reyoot from the public, her works are still available, thanks to her own effort to publish them in a book titled EPRDF’s Red Pen.

Reyoot was arrested on June 21st 2011 when the government launched a coordinated attack against the members of private press incarcerating dozens of journalists. She was charged under the vague and broad sweeping anti-terrorism laws passed by the Ethiopian legislature in 2009. The laws allow for the arrest of anyone thought to “encourage” parties labeled as terrorists. During her trial, the Prosecution produced emails she had received from pro-opposition discussion groups; reports or photos she had sent to the U.S.-based opposition news site Ethiopian Review; unspecified money transfers from her bank account; and photos of anti-government graffiti she had photographed in Ethiopia. Reyoot was sentenced to 14 years in prison and fined 33,000 birrs (about $1,850). In August 2012, an appeals court subsequently reduced the 14-year prison sentence to 5 years and dropped most of the terrorism charges against her.

While in the notorious Kality Prison, Reyoot has been offered clemency, if she agreed to testify against her journalist colleagues. She refused and was sent to solitary confinement for 13 days as punishment for her failure to cooperate. She has recently fallen ill and had to undergo surgery to remove a tumor from her breast.

Reyoot is extremely passionate for freedom of expression and other human rights justice—a woman who gave her life to the cause of justice. Her life makes a significant contribution to Ethiopian journalism and Freedom of Expression in the country-No doubt, she deserved the award.