Serkalem Fasil: Eskinder’s Path
[This is a translation of a piece written in Amharic by the international award-winning Ethiopian journalist Sekalem Fasil on her husband Eskinder Nega, a very well respected and much loved Ethiopian journalist recently jailed by Meles Zenawi’s regime in Ethiopia.]
You all know journalist Eskinder Nega. The government agents who recently arrested him say they know of no journalist named Eskinder Nega. But I know you know him. You know him too as a journalist. He was arrested six times before the 2005 elections. He endured enormous suffering for one year and eight months for no reason other than being a journalist. He is known for being a fearless journalist and for insightful writings.
I am quite sure those who deny knowing him do know him not only as a journalist but also as a courageous one. No one could say Eskinder wrote without supporting facts or with an intention to discredit the reputation of others.
That Eskinder writes neither for fame nor for personal gain was proven when he appeared in court seven times. They could produce no evidence to prove him guilty. Then they tried to incriminate Eskinder after the 2005 elections by accusing him of being a member of the “Central Committee of Kinijit.” But they did not have a shred of evidence to prove their wild allegation, and Eskinder was set free.
It is possible to write about Eskinder in many ways. I know some may doubt my words because I am his wife. But I must say Eskinder is not lucky. Why do I say this? Because the path he has chosen in life is dangerous for him and our family. When he was doing the job he loved to do as a journalist, he was fully aware of the imminent danger of revisiting the prisons in which he had spent so much time in the past.
I think the day Eskinder was fooled was the day he came to believe that the “right to freely express one’s own opinion has been respected in Ethiopia” and left America for Ethiopia in the early ’90s, and started “Etiopis”, the first private newspaper.
Months before his latest arrest, Eskinder was summoned to the office of the deputy police commissioner, who bluntly warned him that they would “take measures.” ['Taking measure' is a general term that constitutes severe punishments, including death]. What the police commissioner had told Eskinder was much more serious than what Eskinder reported in public. He avoided writing what the commissioner had actually said to him not because he was scared for his life but to avoid sparking animosity between and among the people.
Eskinder was not summoned to the commissioner’s office because he was a terrorist. He was called in because of what he was doing as a journalist. The police chief warned him to stop writing. If he had stopped writing, he would not have faced the “terrorism charges”. But no force could have stopped Eskinder from writing, not even his beloved mother who used to beg him to stop writing for his own good.
Sometimes, I feel like our five-year-old son would plead with his dad in silence:
“Dad, why don’t you, like all other people, keep quiet, and raise me peacefully?”
And it is may be that Eskinder was hearing his son’s request in silence; at times he would hold up his son and tell him:
“Nafkot, I love you so much. I do. But I also feel sorry for you! I wish I could raise you by being around you all the time. But I don’t think so.”
For Eskinder, Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people were much more important over his first only child. He would rather comfort me by saying: “You should live for Nafkot; raise him as a mom and a dad. Even if the worst comes, his grandmother would raise him.”
When Nafkot comes of age and is a grown-up, and if this country is as it is now, I believe he wil continue the struggle.
If justice and righteousness don’t exist in this country, Eskinder may never see his son again. But again, this child was born in prison. As a five-year -old child, he will remember what happened when police handcuffed and roughed up his father. When he begins to read, he will know about the stories written about him and his father. What could be expected of this child?
When the police were video-recording Eskinder’s arrest and handcuffing him, the child was sprawled in the street, crying uncontrollably; and yet instead of picking up the child and comforting him, they continued to video record him and take pictures of him. What would they gain out of this horrible scene?
I believe these people, at least one of them, must have a child. Even if they don’t have children, they are human beings. If Eskinder is a terrorist as alleged, the child knows nothing of terrorism. Then how come they terrorized a child who deserves joy, love and comfort? An unfortunate child!
I know for sure that one day the security men who stalked Eskinder round the clock will one day testify that Eskinder is innocent, that he has nothing to do with terrorism. Testimony or not, Eskinder is unstoppable from pursuing his goals. He attaches great values to human rights, democracy and justice.
As Prime Minister Meles Zenawi quit his university education to join a rebel group that helped him achieve his goals, so Eskinder will give up his personal comfort in order to achieve what he considers are lofty principles of humanity. The only difference between him and the prime minister is while the prime minister joined an armed struggle to achieve his goals, Eskinder has chosen the path of nonviolence.