Does the World need another Martyr? The Case of Birtukan Mideksa – Chris Flaherty –Filmmaker

December 12th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

On December 28 2008, Birtukan Mideksa was arrested again and imprisoned to serve a life sentence after the pardon granted to her in 2007 was revoked. (more…)

On December 28 2008, Birtukan Mideksa was arrested again and imprisoned to serve a life sentence after the pardon granted to her in 2007 was revoked. Medeksa was among more than 100 people jailed for offences after allegations of fraud took hold of the Ethiopian election in 2005. The Ethiopian government claimed that her pardon was conditional on “an apology for her crimes.” Today, the 36yr old court judge and mother appears to be gradually elevating to martyrdom status alone in her prison cell — much the same way Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma has.

In May of 2005 the Ethiopian government shot and killed 193 unarmed protesters after a much contested national election. In addition, thousands around the country were rounded up and sent to prison. The press was virtually shut down and many journalists were forced to go into hiding or risk the possibility of suffering horrific consequences at the hands of government security forces. The effect on the population has been devastating. Since the government crackdown Ethiopians have been living in fear of a regime that has demonstrated it will stop at nothing to maintain power, including murdering its own citizens.

The next Ethiopian national election is rapidly approaching and will be held next May. As a filmmaker and a strong supporter of human rights and democracy, I tried my best to reveal the circumstances Ethiopians face in my current film, Migration of Beauty. The film documents in detail the election in 2005 and draws parallels between the present reality inside the country and how it affects the lives of Ethiopians in the Diaspora. I cannot help but be discouraged with all the latest developments coming out of Ethiopia. A recent Reuter’s article indicates that hundreds of opposition party members have been rounded up and sent to prison in preparation for the upcoming election. Indeed, the ruling party’s most viable opponent, Birtukan Mideksa has been in prison since December of 2008. Before her arrest she was hailed as the best possibility to beat Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front or, EPRDF. Now, Birtukan Mideksa appears to be gradually elevating to martyrdom status much the same way Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma has.

As the election gets nearer, grim news coming out of Ethiopia increases with tremendous frequency. A recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists or CPJ reveals that Ethiopia is the second most abusive country towards journalists in the entire continent of Africa. Organizations like, Reporters Without Borders and the International Press Institute have been sounding the alarm for some time.

At a recent screening of my film in New York City, Tala Dowlatshahi, the senior advisor for the U.S. branch of Reporters Without Borders and anchor of RUTV illustrated quite clearly the horrific situation of two particular Ethiopian journalists. Serkalem Fasil and Eskinder Nega were initially jailed after the 2005 Ethiopian election. They were eventually released under a pardon agreement but now with the 2010 election approaching, the government is attempting to legally revoke the pardon and put them back in prison. Dowlatshahi further pointed out the Ethiopian governments attempt to use an anti-terrorism law to charge journalists both as individuals and the companies they work for. The law was passed earlier this year and is having the ominous effect of forcing journalists to permanently close newspapers and flee the country as charges are being drafted against them.

Recently Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi went to Copenhagen to represent Africa in the United Nations Climate Change Conference. I was personally dismayed how such an oppressive figure could be accepted to represent an entire continent. Even more astounding is the insensitivity of “the powers that be” towards the suffering of the Ethiopian people. As former New York Times reporter Doug McGill put it, “he’s being recognized and welcomed with open arms.” McGill also compared him to North Koreas Kim Jong Ill and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabee.

Journalists and filmmakers who work with REPORTERS UNCENSORED still have much work to do to inform the general public about oppressive regimes like the EPRDF and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. They will always be what they are but those who insist on lending them the credit to continue their filthy practices are the ones we need to call out.

Chris and his film, Migration of Beauty will be featured this week on Reporters Uncensored (RUTV). Tune in at 6pm (ET) for a LIVE chat at or watch on demand. For more information go to

Social Innovators Series Episode 07 Ethiopia Election

Watch live streaming video from reportersuncensored at
  1. monu
    | #1

    to solve ethiopian problem is very simple like abc.i will detail one by one.1- ethiopia need access to sea. means port. but how 1use power or real negosation with nebour eritrea by using birr.stop organizing base on ethnic sity party the ruling party shoud be from all ethnik group, national language amharic,any ethiopian invester to work any kind in any place of the country. stop goreign investers first ethiopian nationality free all prisoners after two years the problem of ethiopia sove for good

  2. monu
    | #2

    Monu – I’m afraid your communication has not gotten across the reader. Please write it in a much crearer language.

    thank you

  3. ደምስ
    | #3

    Here is an excellent example for all of us, Ms. Birtukan Medeksa. She sacrified herself what she believes in, true democracy. Now it is up to us to follow her step. We can write from in or out side Ethiopia nothing will change until we are ready to sacrify ourselves.

    Starting from myself, and everyone else chose to be slave for dictator melese than die for our freedom. No American, German, British or some other nationality will die for our problems. We have to die for it, and change will happen.

    We have no one to blame for this mess, but oursleves. We are looking from out side Ms. Birtukan freedom lover or defender. If we want dictator melese to go from Addis, we have stand-up and die for our freedom. Many thousdes even millions people may die, but we will get our freedom.

  4. Rami
    | #4

    I can’t wait to see your film. I heard how good it is from friends in New York.

  5. Free Birtukan
    | #5

    No pain, no gain! I agree with you. Many of us have not sacrificed any thing and hide behind this forum. If you ask me, yes I have sacrificed a lot but my helina is my judge. Birtukan is different from her a bulk of generation which does not know any sacrifice. Meles and his TPLF gang sacrificed for they believed, in spite of the negative outcome we see.
    She said, “I am ready and are you ready?”

  6. Assta B. Gettu
    | #6

    Which one is better for Ethiopia, Birtukan in jail or Birtukan out of jail?

    Separated from her family and her close friends, Birtukan Mideksa has been for the second time in jail for almost one year. Her exclusion from the public eyes may have emboldened and strengthened some Tegarues and many Ethiopian Arab Muslims who sincerely support the Woyanne government from the bottoms of their hearts for their own selfish interests.

    Some of the Tegarues support Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) for ethnicity reasons and for the economic advantages they have been benefiting from their cousin – Meles. Many of the Ethiopian Arab Muslims believe they had been oppressed during the kingdom of King Haile Selassie; however, it seems now that they are very happy that the Woyanne government has given them a new status – equality with the other Ethiopian citizens even though the previous Ethiopian authorities had never denied them their rights to live in the country, trade, and run their own businesses in Ethiopia like any other Ethiopian citizens.

    For those people who support the Woyanne government, Birtukan in jail is a great blessing, but Birtukan out of jail, they think, endangers their enormous benefits from Meles Seitanawi. The time of Birtukan in jail has been a time of peace, relaxation, and an assurance that the Meles regime will continue to govern Ethiopia without any formidable force like Birtukan out of jail. The Meles political groups fear Birtukan out of jail more than Birtukan in jail; therefore, they left her locked in jail without giving her a second chance to defend her self before the law.

    The international support for Birtukan in jail is less effective than the support from many other nations for Birtukan out of jail, and that is why the Woyanne government wants to hear and see the action and the silence of the community of nations as far as Birtukan remains in jail.

    When Nelson Mandela was in jail for 27 years, many democratic countries raised their voices against the Apartheid South Africa by isolating South Africa and by refusing trading with that country unless Nelson Mandela was released from jail. As the trade embargo hit South Africa severely, it finally admitted the injustices the government of Apartheid South Africa had been committing against the black South Africans, and finally, Mandela was released from jail because of the international pressures put upon South Africa. Therefore, Nelson Mandela in jail or Nelson Mandela out of jail – in both ways – has become one of the celebrities ever to be elected as the first black president in the history of South Africa.

    On the other hand, the international community has not fully recognized the atrocities and the injustices the Woyanne government has been committing against its own citizens; however, knowing that Birtukan out of jail would get wide publicities that would put her in power, dismantling the Meles oppressive and rotten regime, the Woyanne government has chosen one of the cruelest ways, and that is to separate Birtukan from her daughter and from her mother and put her in jail for an indefinite time. In this way, for the Woyanne government, Birtukan in jail is better than Birtukan out of jail. While in jail, Birtukan cannot travel allover the world, cannot get public attentions, and cannot galvanize a new movement that fully understands her plans for the Ethiopian people – to kill the Meles regime and to empower the powerless nation, the nation of Ethiopia.

    Birtukan out of jail, no doubt, will be another severe headache for Meles and his crime family, and his grasp for power will be smothered immediately.

    Once Birtukan is out of jail (I do not know when that will be), she would probably travel to London, Washington, and to many other famous cities to muster new recruits and to encourage her old supports. After she gets the full support of her parties, she would then lash out at the Woyanne government, but if Meles Seitanawi senses he is in great danger again as Birtukan out of jail continues revealing Meles’ weaknesses in governing the Ethiopian people democratically, he may try for the 3rd time to arrest her by concocting false accusations such as that she has been found planning to overthrow the Woyanne government. Or He may order his death squad to assassinate her and put an end to his every day fear of losing his power and giving it involuntarily to a woman without a fight.

    Even if Meles is a bilinear, he still thinks his money may not help him from being mishandled for his crimes against humanity, so he would struggle to stay in power by putting his opponents in jail or by liquidating them once for all.

    Birtukan out of jail is indeed good for Ethiopia since all the eyes of the Ethiopian people are looking at her that one day she will be the first woman prime minister of Ethiopia. Most Ethiopians are used to have been ruled by a king, and this time they would like to be ruled by a queen even though she would be elected democratically as a prime minister of Ethiopia for a limited time, but the people of Ethiopia would like to see her as their queen and a prime minister. When there is someone likeable, dependable, and motherly or fatherly at the top of governance, the Ethiopian peoples’ quest for a leader that they could rally around that leader would finally come to settle.

    I believe Birtukan out of jail would unify the country, and there will be no more Oromo, no more Amhara, no more Tigray, no more Gurage, and no more Somali – we all will be Ethiopians and Ethiopia will be ours, so let us fight for the immediate release of our future leader, Birtukan Mideksa.

  7. kkk der
    | #7

    Realy she is unbreable

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