Sue Valentine/CPJ Africa Program Coordinator
Reeyot Alemu, an Ethiopian journalist who worked for the independent weekly Feteh, spent almost 1,500 days in prison after beingarrested in June 2011 and charged with terrorism in 2012. She was released unexpectedly in July.
In interviews with CPJ in November and December, Reeyot discussed her experiences in prison, during which she was held for brief periods in solitary confinement and denied visits. She says she refused an offer of a pardon because it would have implied an admission of guilt. “They wanted me to kneel down, but I was not OK with that,” she said. “I think they wanted to release me, but they wanted me to say that I was wrong.”
Reeyot also discussed her decision to join Arbegnoch Ginbot 7, a coalition of opposition political organizations banned by the Ethiopian authorities. She announced her membership to the group in December, during an interview with Ethiopian Satellite Television Service in Washington D.C.
You were released unexpectedly on July 9. What did you think when you heard you were free?
I was confused. I didn’t ask for pardon and I did not fill out the parole form. I suspected they might take me to another police station or prison, or for torture. I said to the prison officers, “Maybe you say something false and if I reveal it, you will bring me back?” I think maybe they released me suddenly to avoid many people knowing about it. My sister had come for the release of [journalists] Edom [Kassaye] and Mahlet [Fantahun.] Fana Radio [a pro-government station] had announced their release. She didn’t know about me, because the media didn’t say anything. She wasn’t there for me, but she was very happy and excited.
What was it like in prison? Are you able to put those memories behind you?
I don’t think someone in prison can put the prison memories behind. I can’t and I also don’t want to because I must not forget. If I forget these kinds of things it’s not good for the struggle. There are many prisoners there, there are many who’ve been tortured there, there are many innocent people who don’t deserve to be in prison. Therefore I want to remember.
Sue Valentine, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, has worked as a journalist in print and radio in South Africa since the late 1980s, including at The Star newspaper in Johannesburg and as the executive producer of a national daily current affairs radio show on the SABC, South Africa’s public broadcaster.
CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.
Africa Program Coordinator
Africa Research Associate
West Africa Representative
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