Journalists and media owners across Africa gave Ethiopian journalist Woubshet Taye a standing ovation in Cape Town on Saturday night at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards 2013, but he wasn’t there to see it. Instead his wife and son accepted the Free Press Award on his behalf.
Part of the citation for the award reads: “Ethiopia is a jewel in the African crown for its beauty, its people, its history and, most recently, for its astonishing growth rates. It is the judges’ view that journalists like Woubshet Taye and his colleagues Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega should be out of prison and working to build the prosperity and the freedom of a new Ethiopia. The judges make this award in recognition of Mr. Taye’s work and in solidarity with his condition.”
Presenting the award to Berhane Tesfaye and the couple’s not-quite-five-year-old son, who were dressed in matching white and blue outfits, chair of the judging panel and editor-in-chief of the South African weekly City Press Ferial Haffajee said it was disappointing that “once again there were too many cases” for the judges to consider in this category, which recognizes “excellence and provides support to African journalists who report at continuing risk to their lives and safety.”
Woubshet, deputy editor of the Awramba Times, has been in jail for more than two years. He was detained in June 2011and held incommunicado before being convicted on terrorism charges and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in January 2012. After Woubshet’s arrest, the paper stopped publishing in Ethiopia and the editor fled into exile. Accepting the award on his behalf, Berhane Tesfaye said her husband was grateful for the solidarity and received the award in the name of all journalists who are oppressed.
In April this year, Ethiopian authorities moved Woubshet to the remote Ziway prison about 83 miles (160 kilometers) from the capital Addis Ababa. His wife said that although it is a long way to travel, she is usually able to visit her husband every two weeks. However, she said that Woubshet’s parents–his father is 102 and his mother 90–are too old to make the journey. In September, Woubshet’s application for a presidential pardon was rejected, according to news sources.
The CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards began in 1995. A panel of 10 independent judges selected finalists and winners in 14 categories before naming an overall 2013 winner.
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 show on the SABC, South Africa’s public broadcaster.