Hailemariam Desalegn worse than Al-Bashir (Girma Kassa)
“Today, we announce a decision to free all the political prisoners and renew our commitment to all political powers about dialogue,” declared a statement from a leader of an African country. Had this statement been from Hailemariam Desalegn (HMD) , the new Ethiopian Prime Minister, joy and celebrations would have engulfed Ethiopian communities all over the word. But that was not the case. The statement was from Sudanese president, Omar Al Bashir.
As Ethiopia is heading towards a new transition after the death of Zenawi, there were expectations a bashir-like gesture would come, from the new Desalegn administration. Unfortunately what we are witnessing is the status quo, and continuation of the politics of incarcerating reporters, human right activists and political opponents. It seems authorities in Addis Ababa have not reached at the level Al Bashir has.
Hailemariam Desalegn has recently visited Brussels for the first time since he became Prime Minister. He had several discussions with high ranking EU officials, during which respect of human rights and democratization were raised as big issues.
“The EU attaches great importance to human rights. Success of socio-economic developments depends on the participation of a strong and open society and on the respect of fundamental freedoms” said the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, stressing the great importance of opening up the political space.
Echoing a similar sentiment and emphasizing that there cannot be true and sustainable development without freedom, José Manuel Durão Barroso, the European Commission President said : “ultimately economic growth can only be sustained if it is achieved in an open society respectful of fundamental rights and also freedom, from freedom of expression to freedom of the press.”
The President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz went even further by publicly singling out the so called repressive anti-terrorist law and mentioning Eskinder Nega and Reyot Alemu. “I have shared with the Prime Minister, my concerns, and those of many of my colleagues, on anti-terrorist legislation and the cases of jailed journalists in the country, such as Eskinder Nega or Reeyot Alemu.” he said highlighting that jailing reporters has been common and needed to stop.
In spite of the call EU officials made for the release of prisoners of conscious, for the respect of human rights and liberty, Mr. Desalegn tried to justify the unjustifiable. “You have to differentiate between observing human rights and also keeping the rule of law. We haven‘t arrested anybody because he is a journalist, because of his opinion, because of his expression of his opinion. It‘s simply anyone who commits crime, especially in conjunction with working with terrorist groups” he said, flatly denying that there were any political prisoners.
Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law criminalizes any reporting or political activism, deemed to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to groups and causes which the government considers to be “terrorists”. In simple term, in Ethiopia, opposing the government is “terrorism”. It is under this definition that Hailemariam Desalegn is trying to justify the branding of peaceful and unarmed civilians as “terrorists”, as “legal”.
His name is Eskinder Nega, a father of a boy and husband of an equally brave reporter and patriotic woman, Serkalem Fassil. Because his views and writings are not in line with the wishes of the rulers, he landed in prison. For his selflessness and commitment to freedom, he was later awarded the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award at the annual PEN Gala in New York on May 1, 2012. It is such a man that Mr. Desalegn is referring as a “terrorist”.
Her name is Reyot Alemu She was a young English teacher at a high School. Per the right afforded by the constitution to any citizens, she wrote columns critical against some of the policies and actions of the ruling party. Disregarding the supreme law of the land that allows the right of expression, rulers arrested her. She was recommended by an independent international jury of media professionals in recognition of her “exceptional courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression” and became the recipient of the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. It is such a woman that Mr. Desalegn is calling a “terrorist”.
His name is Wubeshte Taye, a father of a 4 year old boy. He was a deputy editor of the now-defunct independent weekly Awramba Times. He was known with his fact based and researched columns that disarmed the deceitful rhetoric of corrupt officials. He was then locked up in the notorious Kilinto prison until he was recently moved to the Ziway prison, often known as “the death camp”, away from his family. For his courage and commitment to free speech, he became a recipient of Human Rights Watch’s Hellman/Hammett Award. It is such man that Mr. Desalegn is calling a “terrorist”.
Andwalem Arague, the vice president of UDJ, the main legally registered opposition party, Nathanael Mekonnen, another council member of the UDJ, Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelissa oppositions leaders of the legally registered Oromo federalist Congress and many more , peaceful civilians are arrested , branded as “terrorists” for crimes they have not committed.
With all due respect to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Eskinder Nega and others are not terrorists. No weapons, bombs or explosives were found at their disposal. No clandestine communications with any groups were presented. Their stands on peaceful and non-violent struggle are well known. What they said and what they wrote, they did it in the open. The whole world knows who these people. These are heroes and patriots, precious jewels of Ethiopia.
The longer the regime keeps them in prison, the quicker would be its downfall. The more HMD keep and comrades keep on labeling these prisoners as terrorists, and repeat their absurd propaganda, the more they would show how backward, uncivilized and barbaric they have become.
The writer, Girma Kassa could be reached at Muziky68@yahoo.com