Elias Wondimu reading Reeyot Alemu’s letter
By Isseu Diouf Campbell
Translated in French by Claire Dadies
Ethiopian columnist Reeyot Aleemu was one of the recipients of the International Women’s Foundation’s “Courage in Journalism Award” in New York this year, along with Asmaa Al-Ghoul from Palestine and Khadija Ismayilova from Azerbaijan.
Reeyot wasn’t able to collect her award because she is imprisoned in her home country Ethiopia. The young woman was arrested by the Ethiopian government in June 2011 without charge a week after she published a column criticizing the government.
“Authorities raided Alemu’s home and seized documents and other materials before taking her into custody at the Maekelawi Federal Detention Center in Addis Ababa. In January 2012, a judge of the Ethiopian Federal High Court convicted Alemu of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and participation in a terrorist organization. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison,” the International Women’s Foundation said in a statement.
Elias Wondimu, one of the 150 exiled journalists who nominated Reeyot Alemu, read Reeyot’s letter to the audience.
“Shooting the people who march through the streets demanding freedom and democracy, jailing the opposition party leaders and journalists because they have a different looking from the ruling party, preventing freedom of speech, association and the press, corruption and domination of one tribe are some of the bad doings of our government. As a journalist who feels responsibility to change these bad facts, I was preparing articles that opposed injustice I explained before. When I did it I knew that I would pay the price for my courage and was ready to accept the price because journalism is a profession that I’m willing to devote myself,” the letter read.
Even if Elias Wondimu doesn’t know if the award will help release Reeyot, he believes that it is a significant act.
“This is a very important award to tell her and show her that she is appreciated, she is not forgotten in prison and she is being remembered for her courage. Female journalists in Ethiopia should not be forced to stay out of journalism because of the persecution by the government. The attack on journalism started in 2005 after the elections. Since then, the freedom to write and publish in Ethiopia has been highly diminished and most publications were closed. The government added a terrorism clause in the press code to be able to imprison all these people. Reyoot is a victim of these practices; just for opposing the government’s point of view and for advocating for a peaceful change of the system.”
For the International Women’s Media Foundation executive director, Elisa Munoz, the fight to empower women in the news media continues with women like Reeyot.
“She was one of many candidates but her story was so moving and so compelling that ultimately she was one of the three women chosen for the award. Throughout our research we discovered that 38 women have died in the last decade doing their reporting work. These women are often targeted just like men, usually it’s the government but not always sometimes it’s other people, for exposing information that they don’t want to come out. That’s what we’ve seen with many of our winners. They know the danger but they choose to take the risk.”
Photos of the event