Imprisoned Ethiopian Columnist Reeyot Alemu was honored with a Courage in Journalism Award at a luncheon in New York on Wednesday. Alemu, 31, is serving a five-year sentence under Ethiopia’s controversial anti-terrorism law for email communications she exchanged with a US-based opposition group whose members are considered terrorists by the country’s leadership.

“For EPRDF, journalists must be propaganda machines,” Alemu wrote, referring to the country’s ruling party, in a hand-written letter smuggled from prison, read at the ceremony by an exiled Ethiopian journalist. “But for me, journalists are the voices for the voiceless.”

While in jail, Alemu refused government offers for clemency if she testified against her journalist colleagues, the International Women’s Media Foundation, which gives out the awards, said. In retaliation, authorities sent Alemu to a two-week solitary confinement. In her letter, Alemu appealed to the international community to understand the “real Ethiopia,” where free expression is criminalized, and journalists and opposition leaders are imprisoned for having a view different from the ruling elite.

The Courage in Journalism award was also presented to Azerbaijan radio reporter Khadija Ismayilova and freelance Gazan journalist Asmaa al-Ghoul, at a luncheon with more than 500 attendees. The ceremony, hosted by Christiane Amanpour, also honored Marie Colvin and Mika Yamamoto, who both died earlier this year while reporting in Syria.

 

 

Mohammed Ademo is a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. He's also the founder and editor of OPride.com, an independent news website about Ethiopia. He can be reached on Twitter @OPride.