Ethiopian-Canadians Name Imprisoned Ethiopian opposition leader and Human Rights Defender Ms. Birtukan Mideksa “2009 Ethiopian Person of the Year” – ECADF
(September 6, 2009—Vancouver, BC) ECADF
Despite the rain and early autumn chill, hundreds of Ethiopian-Canadians gathered this weekend in Vancouver, BC for the annual North-western America Ethiopian Soccer Tournament. While the tournament itself is an annual event—drawing supporters and participants from Seattle, Portland, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Vancouver, this year’s games included a noticeably unique event: an awards ceremony honoring jailed Ethiopian opposition leader and human rights defender Ms. Birtukan Mideksa.
Birtukan Mideksa, 36, a former judge and single mother, is currently serving a reinstated life sentence in the notorious Kality federal prison in Ethiopia. Considered a “prisoner of conscience” by human rights organization Amnesty International, her unlawful arrest has drawn condemnation from Western politicians, and humans right activists and members of the Ethiopian Diaspora around the world.
One week prior to the awards ceremony, held adjacent to the main soccer field on the final day of the tournament, various Ethiopian-Canadian civic organizations, media personalities and human rights activists gathered to elect the charismatic Mideksa, “2009 Ethiopian Person of the Year”.
According to event organizer Mr. Kebede Habtemariam, a resident of Burnaby, BC, Mideksa was chosen “as a result of her extraordinary courage and perseverance, and the great sacrifice she is paying for the cause of democracy and justice in Ethiopia.”
The award, consisting of a commemorative plaque and $1000 cheque (to be sent to Mideksa’s immediate family in Ethiopia), was presented by Mr. Shakespear Feyissa, a Seattle-based attorney and human rights activist, to Ms. Senait Mulugeta, a childhood friend of Mideska who received the award on her behalf. In a brief acceptance speech, Senait spoke eloquently of her imprisoned friend, whom she considers “her heroine”, and shared an anecdote from when the two were seventh-grade peers, recalling Mideksa’s “brilliance in academic and extra-curricular activities” evidenced even at that early age. Feyissa then thanked the election committee for the honor of presenting the award, and spoke at length of his admiration for Mideksa’s courage and her “tolerance and determination to change Ethiopia forever”. He also expressed his appreciation to the Vancouver community and event organizers for hosting the ceremony, and encouraged those in attendance to continue to work towards Mideksa’s release. Local writers concluded the ceremony by presenting various works they had prepared in tribute to the imprisoned leader, and the event was followed by a short auction to raise additional funds for Mideksa’s family members.
Following the violent aftermath of contested Ethiopian national elections in May 2005, Birtukan Mideksa was jailed as a political prisoner along with hundreds of other opposition politicians and supporters. After nearly 2 years in prison, Mideksa was released on a government pardon and her re-arrest—for allegedly violating the conditions of her pardon by publicly discussing the terms of her release—came only 18 months after she was freed from incarceration.
Mideksa is widely considered the opposition frontrunner in upcoming Ethiopian national elections in 2010 and many believe that her re-arrest is an attempt by the government to silence the opposition and lawful dissent.
Since her re-imprisonment in December 2008, Mideksa has been largely kept in solitary confinement and has been repeatedly denied full access to visitors and legal representation.