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By Tom Rhodes

(CPJ Blog)  -  ”When I grow up will I go to jail like my dad?” This was the shattering question that the five-year-old son of imprisoned Ethiopian journalist Woubshet Taye asked his mother after a recent prison visit. Woubshet’s son, named Fiteh (meaning “justice”), has accompanied his mother on a wayward tour of various prisons since his father was arrested in June 2011.

Woubshet Taye

Woubshet Taye (photo: Awramba Times)

Authorities have inexplicably transferred Woubshet, the former deputy editor of the independent weekly Awramba Times, to a number of prisons. From Maekelawi Prison, authorities transferred him to Kality Prison in the capital, Addis Ababa, then to remote Ziway Prison, then Kilinto Prison (just outside Addis Ababa), back to Kality, and in December last year–to Ziway again.

It is at Ziway, an isolated facility roughly 83 miles southeast of the capital, where heat, dust, and contaminated water have likely led to a severe kidney infection in Woubshet. The award-winning journalist was meant to receive medical treatment while at Kality Prison in Addis Ababa, Woubshet’s wife, Berhane Tesfaye, told me, but it never took place. Suffering in such pain in his ribs and hip that he cannot sleep, Woubshet has not even received painkillers, according to local journalists who visited him.

CPJ’s attempts to reach Ethiopian government spokesman Shimeles Kemal by phone call and text message were unsuccessful.

Despite high transport costs and more than four hours of travel each way, Berhane and Fiteh try to visit Woubshet every week. Fiteh routinely becomes ill from the dust, Berhane said, and prison guards prevent Woubshet from hugging his son. Prison visits are often brief and canned, local journalists told me, as even discussions over Woubshet’s health are restricted by guards assigned to monitor the conversation.

What terrible misdeeds could have triggered such a fate? Authorities sentenced Woubshet to 14 years in prison on charges lodged under Ethiopia’s broad anti-terrorism law. The evidence includes email exchanges he had with Elias Kifle, exiled Ethiopian editor of the Washington-based opposition website Ethiopian Review, Berhane said. An email to Woubshet’s brother in America was also cited as evidence against him, she said. After Woubshet’s brother asked about their ailing father’s eye operation, his reply that “the operation was done successfully” was used as an example of his terrorist activities.

Local journalists suspect the real reason lies in Woubshet’s critical reporting at Awramba Times. Two weeks prior to his arrest, Woubshet published a column critical of the ruling party’s performance in its two decades of rule. Another column, written in 2009, that questioned the whereabouts of former opposition party members after the 2005 elections may have also triggered his arrest, Berhane said.

While debates over the reasons for Woubshet’s arrest may persist, there is one point on which all sides should agree: Woubshet must be allowed access to medical treatment. Ethiopia is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and thus duty-bound to ensure the health of its citizens as a fundamental human right.

 

Tom Rhodes is CPJ’s East Africa representative, based in Nairobi



23 Responses to “CPJ: Ethiopian journalist on prison odyssey needs medical care”

  1. Gezaee Hailemichael January 12, 2014

    Ethiopia is the most unfair country after Arab Islamic countries;Arabs cut your neck, Ethiopia kills you by agonizing pain like this . Look human being must be treated with dignity even if one is found guilty. But you see this? what is the purpose of making people suffer? what is the benefit? what is the fruit of suffering? What about if someone make mistakes in our life? are we not human being? Has this man killed any person? even if he did, he should be treated with dignity and must have access to all human needs. Punishment of this kind will only foster more hatred and conflict among citizens. Who is going to arrest EPRDF members for stealing 13 billion dollars? for betraying 100 000 souls during the war with Shabia? If these can be applied to every Ethiopians who did wrong? well, all EPRDF officials must have been hanged by now. How crimes did EPRDF aka TPLF did? many. so please set him free; please, do not be cruel and subhuman. Ethiopians are good on barbarism. Please set him free you primitives. You development means nothing if you are punishing people like this. You can not suppress opposition like this. The only one way to abort opposition is to stop stealing , corruption, zemedbezemed, …. set him free, you wild beasts of Africa.Do you really sleep well if people suffer like this.

    But I wanted to mention. CPJ please, you are a problem because your interference and arrogance makes things much worse. This man must be released if he admit his mistake whatever it is . there is no need. In Kenya you are asked money to pay.If you are sentenced for 20 years, there is money equivalent to 20 years. Either you pay the 20 years imprisonment equivalent money or you stay in the prison. I asked why you set people free when they pay money? well, they say, there is no point keeping the person in prison for 20 years if he can pay 20 million dollars. They say it is punishment; you do not have necessarily make suffer bodily for mistakes they have done. Please set him free, develop, be human and have 5 senses. You have done many crimes too.

    Reply
    • Ye Ayeet Misikrua Dimbit. This is a make believe emotional plea story from a well known who proved time and again as an extremist opposition mouthpiece.Tom Rhodes is relevantor will keep employed in Africa because of the likes of Gezae mentality who are full of hate and self loathe. So keepjumping at every opportunity to undermine or fabricate accusations against the gov’t.

      The only thing we all agree is if the prisoner is indeed sick heneeds the proper and timely care according to the prevailing standard in the country. Where CPJ is heading with this is transparent. Next we will hear a petition campaign ….. Ms Mideksa deJa vu!

      Reply
  2. Awambatimes has became activist for his friends journalist. Is this why you returned back home??? Dawit you need to open your eyes

    Reply
  3. Tom Rhodes
    The moment I saw you last time in Ethiopia, a surge of anger was running in me. We don’t have white people in East Africa, why in the first place you are representative of us? This is an absolute agony for Africans
    You are a good show case that White people have unfinished business in Africa. I can say, this is a very unfortunate phenomenon where Every Africans need to struggle, whatever and however uphill task it is.
    You brought the story of, Webeshet Taye’s child to soften our heart, It was nice try but we tell you didn’t work for the moment.
    We knew very well from child psychology that children are inquisitive mind and there is nothing unique if Wobeshet’s child inquire what you stated.
    Honestly speaking this is immaterial and we better discuss why and how Wobeshet Taye is jailed.

    Reply
  4. Berhane, Wobeshet Taye’s wife mentioned that her Husband said “the operation was done successfully”…He meant to describe for Elias Kifle about the eye surgery his father went through…
    This is completely bullshit. We are not living in a full paradise to comprehend this. The tone of Webeshet Taye’s wife speaks a lot…..

    Reply
  5. I do not know whether Mr Wubshet is unfairly imprisoned. I do know the likes of Mr Elias Kifle and G7 are unquestionablly terrorists. I also know Journalists are are not immune from the law of the land if they do stray from lawful reporting. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be critical of the EPRDF. No government is perfect. However, the fact that you have posted this piece is evidence that this government is not bent on destroying any form of dissent or criticism. Mr Wubshet is entitled to full medical care that is afforded to all prisoners. Having just visited Ethiopia I am stagerred by the pace of development and sense of optimism ordinary citizens have for the future. This doesn’t mean there is no palpable poverty – that the cost of living has not spiralled out of control or that Ethiopia doesn’t have major economic/political challenges! Far from it. However, there appears a clear plan to fight poverty and a genuine will to improve the lives ALL citizens of the diffent nationalities.
    Now, a sound and fair Justice system is the corner stone of a civilized society. All the developmental trajectory will mean nothing if there is no Justice. I believe the EPRDF appreciates this and will deal Mr Wubshet’s grievances fairly.

    Reply
  6. have you seen saturday edition war mongering , copy-paste news papers in ethiopia .

    the journalists must be brought to justice for every venom they spat !

    Reply
  7. Woubshet Taye and many of his co-Prisoners were victims of Ethiopia’s flawed Justice System and it can only be corrected by fixing the whole system, in simple terms, by making Ethiopia fully democratic. Just as the Judicial branch of the regime itself, the crimes fabricated by regime mouth pieces and used against Woubshet, like collaboration and fraternization with a terrorist organization were very loosely defined if not absolutely manufactured by elements of the ruling thugs. Denying one a medical care and starving people to death for reasons of political incorrectness was if anything very rarely used after history condemned the Nazis to a political oblivion from which they would never reemerge and this goes parallel to that. I never heard of any justice system that is too sympathetic to the regime except Ethiopia’s—where even the Constitution would have to be revisited and if need be a New legislation would have to be cooked up overnight to incriminate someone who was already in prison—Siyye Abraha’s case and most recently, Melaku FANTA’S are good examples. In Siyye’s case, Colonel Zenawi had summoned his rubber stamp Parliament overnight and forced pass a new Form of Anti-corruption law, specifically meant to punish Siyye and in Melaku’s case, the House of Federation( Ethiopia’s upper House) had ruled that the defendant’s case could not be appealed to the Supreme Court because they felt if the regime fails to win the case, it couldn’t be appealed. In all cases the courts granted the regime all its requests and Siyye was convicted in an absolutely manufactured political case and Melaku would also very likely be convicted because the courts lack any teeth to resist the regime’s pressure or the Judges themselves could be ruling party members or sympathizers. Asked by an International press why a new legislation was required to punish inmates already in jail, Colonel Zenawi responded at the time saying ” Extraordinary cases require extraordinary responses”, and that was what we did. Indeed, it was extraordinary not because Zenawi cared if Siyye stole billions as Corruption was one of the defining traits of the regime, but it was extraordinary because if Siyye was allowed to abscond, the political price the regime might pay was significant and Zenawi knew that. The question posed by the young boy to his mom, in my very belief is being posed by millions of other kids all across the nation and for now the answer remains, as long Ethiopia remains undemocratic, and you believe in living for your conscience, the answer remains yes.

    Reply
  8. teshome B January 12, 2014

    Hi folks,
    here the issue is not elias kifle or that wubshet’s crime is proved. the point is just let a sick person get treatment. it is that much a simple question. why are you going around? Is keeping patients from treatment legal, human, a moral act?

    Reply
    • Are you sure he sick? we all know he had a sick plan.

      Reply
      • How can you say this with out any evidence, whether this man is sick or not. you seen yours party judge citizens like you judge this person with out any evidences because of their political views. you talk simply because you want to talk not even you have a little knowledge about what you are going to talk about please try to be reasonably don’t be blinded by this cruel party .

        Reply
  9. The ruling party should start negotiation with opposition parties those who respect the Ethiopian constitution, don’t advocate terror, violence, hate and war monger …etc and free the jailed journalists like Wubshet Taye, and leave your legacy forever. I am very happy if the ruling party negotiates with all opposition parties once and for all; I know that forgiveness doesn’t not mean that the deregulation of the supremacy of the law; the law should be teachable not punishable.
    What did we learn from Mandela? Leave alone the historical perspectives he had been in during ANC struggle against apartheid, it was the final decision he made that makes the Country stable. Maybe Mandela was not the saint we want him to be; as human being he may have shortcomings, he left his legacy forever in reconciling antagonistic parties and peoples. It is often better to negotiate with your enemy, than perhaps to kill and remove from the surface of the earth. If you negotiate, you may accomplish a lasting peace, cooling the boiling hatred, reducing animosity etc and if you choose the other path you more or less inevitably choose unending war. It is a truism, that often one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter – it merely depends on which side of the fence you are sitting on, I don’t mean that terrorism is acceptable; it is totally unacceptable political agenda, but to reveal the general truth.
    The ruling party has done much in developing our country, leave your legacy forever in negotiating, reconciling with the opposition parties and free jailed journalists for sustainable peace, development, good governance and make the future generation free from: hatred, animosity and build the long lasting national consensus, and build scientific community who believes in tolerance.
    Let us think this person is seriously sick; this was disclosed many times on this website; let us do our best to save this journalist regardless of his political stand. Humanity first regardless of his political status.
    The awrambatimes editor do your best to save this person; I can assure you that I will stand alongside of you at every aspect; either financial support or any other … inform me at the soonest possible time; we have only one life to live.
    Personally I hate extreme supporting and opposition in this contemporary world.

    Reply
  10. I hope we Ethiopians will one day be able to sort out our problems without the need of people like Tom (and Jerry) interfering!

    Reply
  11. Tom is naive.
    S/he tried to get sympathy from readers. By posing a question which he tells us was asked by the child of Woubshet, “When I grow up will I go to jail like my dad?” I suggest his mother has to tell him the right answer depending where her son wants him to end up. The answer to the child should be an honest answer: “MY DEAR SON, I HOPE YOU WILL BE A LAW-ABIDING PERSON UNLIKE YOUR DAD. SO IF YOU BEHAVE LIKE YOUR DAD, YOU WILL END UP WHERE YOUR DAD IS NOW, BUT IF RESPECT THE RIGHT OF OTHERS AND KNOW YOUR LIMIT, YOU WILL NOT GO TO JAIL”
    But I am sure the child of Wuobshet will be a much better person. So Tom Rhodes, please. Take of your child. May your child has asked you a question: “When I grew up, will I have an opportunity to interfere in the affairs of others like my dad?” I don’t know what you answer him. But when your son grew up I assure you, the generations of your son will not have a single chance to do the kind of dirty job you are doing.
    Ethiopia by then is china by now!
    Mind your Jerry my dear Tom

    Reply
  12. Dave , why don’t you ask Aboyyee sebehate to release him,

    you make my week Dave,

    Reply
  13. Dear Dawit,
    I think the Ethiopian Government knows about when ever any person need treatment in prison if not yes we all believe the government should take action if it is truth but I don’t believe the righter is telling the truth but most of all you(dawit) know what is happening to your friend so it is better if you(dawit) tell us the truth instead of other the so called liars. Also I will like to say this about Elias Kefeila, is one of the racist person in diaspora and who never work other than getting money from his followers who are racist like him and he claim himself as journalist ha ha ha ha while do not even know what a journalist should do and will do other than telling them lie lie lie. Elias is a looser and garbage, he himself knows he is a looser and garbage so please my fellow friends and friends of Ethiopia we should not waist our time talking about this garbage opposition politician who are hiding abroad while they are eating hamburger and cheese burger and drink soda and become over weight instead we should go forward doing the right thing for our country together. Look what happened to the so called garbage opposition politician they can not even come together, they can not even admit how our country Ethiopia is improving for the better instead they just lie lie lie most of all forget about to lead our country they can not even lead their own family most of them are divorce, take welfare, can not follow up their kids and so on.
    Thanks!

    Reply
  14. Let me say this , as Ethiopian do not like to see any Ethiopian in prison for writing .But I believe we have to respect the law of the land even journalist.
    I know all government are a saitan but we have to choose a better saitan .
    Now let me say some thing abut this person in prison to make a judgement .i do not have detail information to make any fair comment .

    Reply
  15. If you make the crime then you do your time,no if’s and but’s.
    There shouldn’t exceptional people.The law is the same for the farmer, minister and a big mouth pseudo journalist.I wouldn’t want the government to compromise the law of the land in the name of fake sickness and forgiveness bla, bla bla…

    Reply
  16. It is true Ethiopia is not a fair country to its people and its people are not fair to each other either. That has been the fact from what I know.

    However, Tom Rohde is a racist, arrogant. I detest this man very much. He is the most blatant racists who give orders to African leaders. Check his articles? he gives order telling you have to do this and that? What type of mindset is that? He is not even Ethiopian citizen but yet he has the gut to give order ? It does not make sense.

    Arrogance, racism, … is not welcome in the 21 century. People who feel superiority complex because they think their skin colour is better than others, must be educated that human soul, spirit, … has no colour. Colour is an external human cover which has nothing to do with the quality of human being but environmental adaptive radiation. Tom Rohdes needs be liberated from racism and rehabilitated from his superiority complex illness. it is really an illness if people think they are better than their other human fellows. Tome Rohde needs rehabilitation from racism addiction. I read his comments, I find sickening. Even if we think he has good intention, his approach is 100% wrong.

    Reply
    • Gezaee
      When was the last time you visited Ethiopia?I mean the one in east Africa?Most of your analysis seems to me out dated.Seeing is believing,come and see for your self. In Ethiopia we live harmoniously with one another with out a police force or an army. We are very fair one another ,I wish you had that culture in the disoriented ,divided,ignorant diaspora.

      Reply
  17. temesegen February 13, 2014

    the problem of the government is the in correct understanding of democracy so the solution is teach&learn the principle of democracy

    Reply
  18. Wolde Woubneh February 15, 2014

    The map is disturbing because it is ethnically based favoring the Oromo. Of course the writer thinks that the Amhara is the Problem just like every other ethnic group. May I suggest that every Oromo should visit the Amhara region and see how rampart Poverty is in that region before bashing the Amhara for every shortcoming the country faces. Is it really true that the Amhara was in charge during Haile Sellassie and Derg period. Or is it someone else saying that they are Amhara? There is no pure Amhara just like there is no pure Oromo or Tigre. The People have been mixed for thousands of years. Instead of division along ethnic lines we should all be Ethiopians first. One nation united and serving all ethiopians.

    Reply
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