The people’s demand for democracy and justice cannot be eclipsed by the “Akeldama” drama UDJ
Despite the fact that the people of Ethiopia have, for over four decades, waged a struggle that required precious sacrifices, they have not been able to establish a democratic system in their country. It was hoped that EPRDF, the regime that replaced the Derg, would learn a lesson from the past and build a better system. Unfortunately, it too turned out to an outright dictator and a repressive regime. Instead of striving to eradicate oppression, guarantee equality and establish a democratic system, thus enabling all sons and daughters of Ethiopia to have a role in the development of their country, the EPRDF regime has been bent on making hatred and dictatorship the defining characteristics of its rule.
It is to be recalled that Derg used to label TPLF as: “bandits”, “anti-peace” and “secessionist.” Now, EPRDF on its turn is calling the opposition: “anti-peace”, “anti-development” and “terrorists”. It is obvious that the regime has not learnt from its past experience of struggle. There is no better witness than EPRDF itself for the fact that a network of spies, no matter how complex, and a display of force, no matter how mighty, may delay the realization of the people’s legitimate demand but not stop it.
Lately, the government has embarked on a sustained spree of imprisoning and repressing members of the opposition and journalists. Harassing and throwing members of the opposition parties and journalists into prison has become a sustained daily activity of the regime. In the last three months alone, numerous journalists have been victims of imprisonment or exile. It is to be recalled that Dawit Kebede, the Managing Editor of Awramba Times, a popular Amharic weekly, was forced to go into exile.
The regime has come to realize that the reckless and shameful measures it is taking in the name of terrorism have failed to gain acceptance and credibility among the people. It is now engaged in spreading a cheap form of propaganda hoping to regain the trust of the people.
The Ethiopian Television (ETV) has broadcast, on November 26-28, 2011, a poisonous three-part programme named “Akeldama” (meaning “a land of blood”). This cheap propaganda, filled with hate and terror, has two obvious objectives. On the one hand, it aims to substantiate and support the Prime Minister’s recent speech in Parliament where he had said that it was with ample evidence that people were arrested and sent to prison and also to counter the overwhelming criticism and to ease public opposition. On the other hand, it aims to warn and frighten the people, already embittered by the high cost of living and lack of good governance, in case they begin to entertain ideas of following on the footsteps of the “Arab Spring”.
ETV’s three-part programme is self-contradictory and filled with hatred and with open defamation. People who are not members of UDJ were presented as if they were. For example, Ato Muluneh Eyoel was presented as someone “who was a member of the Central Committee of UDJ”. The truth is that Ato Muluneh Eyoel has never been a member of UDJ, much less a member of the leadership. Furthermore, UDJ does not have a structure called “central committee”. Ato Debebe Eshetu or the other individuals named as being members of the so called “merh yikeber” are people who have long been legally dismissed from the party for disciplinary reasons. This fact is fully documented and well known by the government. Ato Andualem Ayalew had left the Party soon after the 2010 election.
The ETV progamme has committed a serious act of defamation against the party and the leadership. It has labeled our party as “terrorist”. The television report has committed an act of defamation by clearly saying “…with UDJ and AEDP, parties that implement the mission of Ginbot 7.” Above all, the EPRDF propaganda programme called “Akeldama” has delivered, on television, a judgment on a case that is already in the hands of the court. The television programme has committed a crime of defamation by referring to those in legal custody as “So-and-so the criminal” even though the court has not yet given a judgment on the accused. If the regime labels citizens as terrorists by its own measures, where is the need for independent courts? And whence comes the freedom of courts?
From what we have observed in connection with the case of Ato Andualem Arage et al, the judicial system is unparalleled in its violation of the rights of citizens under its custody. One of the persons in custody, Ato Natnael Mekonnen, has been subjected to a serious physical and mental torture by investigators in the Central Prison. Despite the fact that Ato Natnael had described the crime perpetrated against him in the hands of investigators at the Central Prison, no immediate action was taken by the court. Also, a grievance was presented to the same court complaining that the programme, “Akeldams”, presented on television, criminalized the accused. In this case, too, the court did not want to look into the complaint. We find it difficult to believe that the interviews of party leaders and other members were conducted in an environment free from duress.
It is well known that, in the past, numerous high-ranking leaders and members of EPRDF have left their party and joined OLF. It is also a public secret that persons who were members of the security and the army have joined OLF and Ginbot 7 in mass. If we were to follow ETV’s logic, EPRDF and the Defense Forces would be terrorists. UDJ is a party that has rules that govern its members. As is clearly stated in these rules, a person who is a member of UDJ cannot be a member of another party. It is forbidden.
This sinister smear campaign designed to isolate UDJ from the people has to stop. If the ruling party thinks that it stands to gain from such cheap propaganda, it is mistaken. In another aspect, ETV broadcasting such a cheap programme filled with hatred indicates that it is suffering from lack of professional skills and professional ethics.
During its armed struggle, EPRDF had no equal in repeating the slogan: “Wherever there is oppression, there is a struggle”. The fact that, when it was in the bush, it used to rob banks is an act about which TPLF has often boasted in public UDJ, committed to a peaceful struggle, does not believe in using robberies and killings as a means of political struggle.
Trying to link, directly or indirectly, UDJ with Sha’bia could not go beyond being a smear propaganda. In the context of the long history of Ethiopia, when it comes to protecting national interest, there is no other party that is as credibility-deficient as EPRDF. Ever since its founding, the position TPLF, the nucleus of EPRDF, has maintained on Eritrea has made our country pay a heavy price. The story of our country being landlocked was the result of EPRDF’s mistaken policy of giving priority to remaining in power rather than to protecting national interest. As if this was not enough, when Sha’bia blatantly violated our sovereignty and territorial integrity, instead of protecting the interests of our country, the ruling regime was an obstacle preventing the closing of the Sha’bian agenda once and for all. By so doing, it gave the Sha’bia regime a new lease of life. It could well be said that the blood of our heroes who died to protect the sovereignty of our country was shed in vain. At the time, the ruling regime amply demonstrated that its loyalty was not to the Ethiopian people but to its Western masters. Viewed from this angle of history, it is ironic and utterly wrong that EPRDF is trying to link UDJ, a party that is struggling for national unity and sovereignty, with Sha’bia and terrorism. The ruling regime has no moral power to lodge this accusation. The Ethiopian people know this truth.
It is to be recalled that the anti-terrorism proclamation has been approved as the law of the land. However, we strongly believe that the law in its present form is a serious obstacle to the spirit of tolerance and reconciliation that we wish to see created in our country. Above all, we believe that the law infringes on the basic rights of association and free expression enshrined in the Constitution. We demand that the law be re-examined and appropriately amended.
It is unfortunate that, so far, we have not been able to come up with a system that accommodates differing views in a civilized manner. We have not been able to build a system by which people can choose the best of existing alternatives. Still, we are in a situation where forces label each other as enemies and work day and night to eliminate each other. In this situation where mutual political elimination is the rule of the game, the country, the people and political parties could not in any way be beneficiaries.
The call that we issue to EPRDF is not to depend on a structure of spying and repression but to build a system in this county where genuine democracy and the rule of law would prevail before it is too late. The dictatorial approach of repressing the people’s desire for change is a downward journey. It is the choice of the defeated whose days are numbered. We call upon the members of EPRDF to advise their party to refrain from continuing on its journey that is bound to lead to a disaster with serious consequences for the country as well as for the party itself.
The regime’s propaganda that portends bloodshed is designed to terrorize people. It is a road of intransigence that leads to strife. The ruling party must distinguish between its ambitions and the needs of the country. As always, UDJ calls upon the people to join hands in the struggle to extricate our country from the political vicious circle, to rid ourselves of fear and to bring about democracy and the rule of law in our country.
Unity for Democracy and Justice
November 30, 2011