This is the third installment of Locked Up for Writing, in which I highlight stories of African journalists who are silenced and restricted from practicing press freedom in their respective countries. Part 1 featured Fasil Yenealem Agegnehu, part 2 Aaron Berhane and now part 3, Dawit Kebede. The Video Journalism (VJ) Movement, a worldwide collaboration of journalists, went to Addis Ababa to meet Dawit and learn about his work. He says,
Reporting the truth should not get you labeled as an enemy of the state.
I’ve had the pleasure to meet Dawit since he left Ethiopia this past November. His experience has made me realize how much we take journalists and the press for granted in the U.S. Here, all kinds of psychos like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and countless others sound off on their own controversial tangents on a daily basis. But the American government does not label and persecute them as terrorists, enemies of the state, or persons who commit treason. Because they’re not. They’re ordinary people who have something to say about something. A seemingly simple concept right? Not so in the Horn of Africa. Voltaire’s famous quote is appropriate for this context:
I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
Contrary to his wishes, as we hear in the video, Dawit now lives in exile. He is a stubborn journalist. He applied for a new newspaper license two days after he was released from a 21-month prison sentence. How many people do you know that would do that? Most recently freed prisoners would probably be found sleeping, eating, spending time with family, perhaps shopping for new clothes and all of the things they were deprived of in prison, and just enjoying their new freedom. Dawit’s seemingly simple act speaks to his level of dedication for his craft. In May, he launched the website version of his popular independent newspaper, Awramba Times. He refuses to give up and for that, I believe a lot of people greatly appreciate him, myself included.
Living in exile and living here in a repressive situation, both are the same.