#16 2015

Dogs and humans in Addis Ababa

“How can I talk about a hit-and-run incident involving a dog when I see on daily basis the suffering of fellow humans?”

Where does the idea of a just society begin? Perhaps in a sudden moment in the morning traffic. Author and chairman in Ethiopian PEN Solomon Hailemariam sees the biggest change in the smallest thing on the way to school with his son—and has hope for the coming generation. It happens in Addis Ababa, but could be anywhere in the world.

Diamonds form under high pressure

Swedish journalist Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson were held for one and a half years in Kality prison. Martin is very familiar with the environment described in many of the texts in this issue. Here he

Letter from Kality prison: Who’s guilty?

No one who has not been wrongly imprisoned can really understand how the system, bit by bit, erodes one’s dignity and self-respect. Prizewinning Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu was sent down for what she had written to

My country’s government will fall by its obsessive need for control

From afar, Ethiopia might seem like a success story—from the famine of the 1980s to a country in which the west and China are only too happy to invest. But the real threat to the country comes from the government’s fear of

No one cares about women’s rights in Ethiopia

The problem is not just that advancements in women’s rights in Ethiopia seem to have come to a standstill—whoever calls to attention these grievances and the betrayal of the female half of the population runs a real risk of

Under the Ethiopian state

Without investigative journalists, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how a dictatorship abuses the legal system and courts. Here, the well-known Ethiopian journalist Temesgen Desalegn describes such a circumstance. Desalegn himself

The culture is in the hands of those who toe the line

Biased and centrally controlled news reporting, poor professional knowledge, endemic resignation amongst journalists and misleading directives—this is how author and journalist Abraham T. Zere describes the media climate in

“You can’t wake up someone who pretends to be asleep”—about Eritrea’s future

January saw the release on bail of six journalists from the radio station Bana in Eritrea. They had been behind bars since 2009, when the government launched a large-scale raid on journalists. Brendan de Caires from PEN

Underground journalism in Eritrea

Eritrea has long languished at the bottom of Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. Despite this, many journalists risk their lives to report on what is happening in the country. One of them is Stefanos

The struggle is between the power of politics and the power of information

In 2001, mass protests broke out in Eritrea after a number of top officials and members of President Isaias Afewerki’s party publicly criticised his autocratic rule and failure to implement democratic reform. What could

The price of being a journalist in Eritrea

Being a journalist in Eritrea means risking your life every day. Here, the pseudonym Mussie Hadgu writes about what made him become a journalist. “The crimes I witnessed shook me to the core, and I felt I had to expose

My Eritrea

Poet and journalist Haile Bizen is known in his native Eritrea by the epithet “the man who broke the silence”. He was forced to flee the country after repeated persecution and systematic interrogation in connection with the

The third condition of freedom

Food or morals? This Brecht quote and dilemma underlies the discussion about the freedom of speech and other human rights: which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Will the respect for human rights increase automatically as a result of a flourishing economy? Or, do human rights such as education, rule of law, and a fair allocation of resources need to be in place first—and then the economic boom will follow suit? This may seem to be an academic question reserved for university seminars, but it isn’t. It is about which policy that paves the way for democratic rule.

The question is somewhat skewed, with regard to some parts of the world that are in and out of the media spotlight: the countries on the horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In 1993, after the war, when a referendum held by the UN showed that a majority of the people in Eritrea wanted independence, there were high hopes of a development towards democracy in the country. This inspired the writer Dawit Isaak, at that time living in Sweden, to return to his native country to take part in the establishment of a free press. This endeavour came to a tragic end in 2001 when the politicians clamped down on those who had demanded democratic reform and on the journalists who had reported about it. Those who are not yet deceased are still imprisoned—among them Dawit Isaak. Eritrea has, since then, become one of the world’s most isolated countries with a mass-emigration of educated citizens and an economy on the downfall. Reporters Without Borders rank the country as having the worst oppression of the press in the whole world—it has position 180 out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders index.