The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed the release of Ethiopian journalists Eskinder Nega and Woubshet Taye after more than six years in prison.

“We are overjoyed that IPI World Press Freedom Hero Eskinder Nega and Woubshet Taye have finally been freed after many years of wrongful and arbitrary imprisonment”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said.

“Though it has come much too late, this is a good day for these two journalists, their families, and for freedom of the press and expression in Ethiopia.”

A persistent critic of Ethiopia’s ruling party, Nega was detained in 2011 shortly after he published a column questioning the government’s abuse of anti-terror laws to punish journalistic scrutiny. An Ethiopian court convicted Nega in June 2012 on sham and vague terrorism-related charges and sentenced him to 18 years in prison, a decision the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention later said violated international law.

In 2017, IPI and the Denmark-based International Media Support (IMS) jointly named Nega as IPI’s 69th World Press Freedom Hero.

Taye had been jailed since June 2011 and was serving a 14-year sentence for conspiracy to commit terrorism, participation in a terrorist organization and money laundering, charges IPI and other groups believe were brought in retaliation for Taye’s critical journalism.

The Ethiopian government has consistently used anti-terror legislation to punish journalistic scrutiny of its actions and smear the country’s independent media. IPI members in 2017 called on Ethiopia to reform its anti-terror law in line with international standards and to repeal criminal defamation and false news provisions that have been used to target critical journalists.

In 2014, IPI and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) travelled to Ethiopia on a joint mission to urge the release of Nega, Taye and other jailed journalists.

Mesfin Negash, an Ethiopian journalist currently living in exile in Sweden who accepted the World Press Freedom Hero award on Nega’s behalf last May, said the release of Nega and Taye marked a turning point even as he underscored the need for further progress regarding human rights in the country.

“The last few days and weeks have been very important to Ethiopia”, Negash told IPI this afternoon. “I think [the release] is a good gesture of Ethiopia, but there has still been no sign of a genuine reform.”