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PEN honours jailed Ethiopian journalist

Honoured ... Serkalem Fasil accepts the 2012 PEN American's "Freedom to Write Award" for her husband Eskinder Nega.

Honoured ... Serkalem Fasil accepts the 2012 PEN American's "Freedom to Write Award" for her husband Eskinder Nega. Photo: AP

An imprisoned Ethiopian journalist and blogger who could face the death penalty for advocating peaceful protests in his Horn of Africa homeland has been honoured with PEN America's "Freedom to Write" award.

Eskinder Nega was arrested in 2011 under Ethiopia's sweeping anti-terrorism laws, which PEN says criminalise any reporting deemed to "encourage" or "provide moral support" to groups and causes the government deems "terrorists."

Nega is still in jail after a judge in Addis Ababa found him guilty January 23 on terror charges. He could face the death penalty at sentencing.

Ethiopia has arrested close to 200 people, among them journalists and opposition politicians and members, under last year's anti-terrorism proclamation.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more journalists have fled Ethiopia than any other country in the world over the past decade.

Nega was honoured at PEN/America's annual gala dinner on Tuesday at the American Museum of Natural History, with some 500 PEN members and supporters in attendance.

PEN/America granted him the year's PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.

Forty-six women and men have received the award since 1987; 33 of the 37 honorees who were in prison at the time they were honoured were subsequently released.

Accepting the award was his wife, Serkalem Fasil, a free expression advocate in her own right, who served 17 months in prison for treason starting in 2005 and gave birth to their child behind bars. She won the International Women's Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award in 2007.

"The Ethiopian writer Eskinder Nega is that bravest and most admirable of writers, one who picked up his pen to write things that he knew would surely put him at grave risk," said Peter Godwin, president of PEN American Centre.

"Yet he did so nonetheless. And indeed he fell victim to exactly the measures he was highlighting, Ethiopia's draconian 'anti terrorism' laws that criminalise critical commentary."

AP

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