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2010 Freedom to Write Award: Sisay Agena

November 19, 2010

PEN CENTER USA
Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sisay Agena was born on February 17, 1970. He began his journalism career as a freelance writer in December 1994 and soon become editor-in-chief of the Amharic weekly newspaper, Zagol. After a few months, in September 1995, he became editor-in-chief of etop newspaper, a well known press that, by May 2005, had the highest circulation in Ethiopian print media history with 130,000. In June 1998, Agena also began his privately owned magazine, etop. He ran both the newspaper and the magazine until November 2005, when the turmoil surrounding the election began to affect journalists and their right to free press.

Along with fifteen other journalists, Agena was sent into custody and all papers, other than those affiliated with the government, were banned without an official statement. These journalists were accused of committing genocide, treason and outrage against the constitution. Agena remained imprisoned for one and a half years in Kality Prison, then was sent to solitary confinement near Addis Ababa. PEN Center USA, Amnesty International, and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) fought for the rights of Sisay Agena, who had been suffering from poor prison conditions and harsh treatment, without judicial review. According to CPJ, Agena was kept in a small, dirty cell with extremely limited access to the bathroom, light, clean water and visitors.

On April 9, 2007, the court ruled in favor of the journalists and acquitted them of all charges. However, the government took away Agena’s right to bring back his previous paper or to start a new publication on anti-state charges. Despite the fact that the government took away his right to exercise his profession and his natural right to free press, Agena continues to write articles on various Ethiopian websites. He constantly faces obstacles, even in this capacity, because only 1% of the Ethiopian population has access to the internet. The government has also attempted to block political websites so that about 0.5% of the population has access to those websites through proxy servers. Very few of those who have access actually print out the articles to share with relatives and the government persists in the harassment of writers.

Since 2000, Agena has been one of the executive committee members of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalist Association (EFJA), a non-profit organization that brings journalists together and protects press freedoms in Ethiopia, until the government banned it a few years later. During his lifetime, he has been jailed at least six times for speaking the truth against the ruling elite. He spent one month in December 1995 for investigation and one month in February 1996 without bail. In November 1996, he was sentenced by the federal high court to one year in prison and two years later, in September 1998, was given six months without bail, and another five days in December 1999. Finally, after the 2005 election, he faced one and a half years in prison without bail, yet he continues to fight for Ethiopia’s right to freedom of the press. Agena became an honorary member of PEN Center USA in 2006 and we are proud to present him with the 2010 Freedom to Write Award.

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2 Comments
  1. Lanchibey adamu permalink

    Betam yemkorabehna yemadenkeh sew negn,neguwe gaman betam adenkew neber ,endihum eliasn abebe gelaw yehen cherak kasdengetew behala betam new yetdstkult.tebarku yehen ye ethiopian hezeb betam yenakuten benant kenberna ahun betketatalew ye muslimu kend yeversesu.Amen metshafeh ethiopa west al way? Yet mvegnt yechalal? Bertukan,profissor mesfin alu way?demtachew tefa.endenzeh aynetochunem esat lay akerbulen, betley profissor mesfin hule enant weshetamoch endalu neber zare enanten yemimesl tetki magegnet kelal aydelem.Tbark Amen

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  1. 2010 Freedom to Write Award: Sisay Agena | Debteraw : Ethiopian News and Politics Journal

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