THE NEW PROFESSOR ASRATS AND BIRTUKAN MIDEKSSAs? By Girma Kassa
“The Only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear” Aung San Sun Kyi.
“Repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves
out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished.” Mihaly Csiszentmihalyi
The brutal Zenawi regime, through the courts it controls, has sentenced Fetehe newspaper columnist Reyot Alemu and reporter Hirut Kifle to 14 years and 19 years of prison time respectively. Wubshet Taye, the deputy editor of the now closed Awramba Times newspaper, received 14 years behind bars. Using their pen to hold political leaders accountable, as is their right under the constitution, is their crime.
Eskinder Nega, the popular reporter, known for his strong advocacy of a peaceful and nonviolent Egypt-like change in Ethiopia, also found himself in Kaliti, accused of inciting violence.
The UDJ’s young, popular, and charismatic vice president, Andwalem Aragie, a UDJ council member and leader Nathnael Mekonnen were also accused of supporting G7, a charge that has been proven baseless even by the very audio evidence presented by the prosecutor.
Bekele Gerba and Olbana Lelissa, leaders of the main alliance of opposition parties, Medrek, were falsely accused of being OLF supporter and for providing Amnesty International with information about the regime’s unconscionable discriminatory distribution of donor-donated food aid and the denial of that aid to opposition supporters.
All in all, no explosive devices, intelligence radio communications, or any equipment that could remotely be used for terrorist acts were found in the home and offices of the jailed reporters and political leaders. However, their pens and speeches have taken them to the notorious, rat infested Kaliti prison. They are journalists, non-violent individuals, and peaceful political opponents; but they have been labeled as “terrorists”.
Why are these reporters and UDJ/MEDREK leaders in Kaliti? Why is the hope of seeing a better Ethiopia getting dimmer and dimmer?
Professor Asrat Woldeyes stood for Ethiopia and its people. He came out of prison in a body bag. What guarantees do we have that Eskinder Nega and others will not be the new Professor Asrats?
Birtukan Mideksa stood for justice, honesty, and the rule of law. The Zenawi regime barbarically placed her in solitary confinement for more than 6 months, something that has not happened even to rapists and serial killers. She was denied visitations by family, lawyers, and spiritual fathers and physically and psychologically tortured. Under duress, she walked out from prison emotionally, spiritually and psychologically damaged. What guarantee do we have that Eskinder Nega and others will not be like Birtukan Mideksa?
Eskinder Nega, Andwalem Aragie, Reyot Alemu and others, because they love their country and are selfless, stood for Democracy and Ethiopiawinet. They stood against dictatorship, ethnic politics, and mock democracy. They did their duty.
Had they decided to be silent, they could have easily spared themselves prison life. They could have even joined Addis Zemen newspaper or the EPRDF by making deals with the government. They could have a choice of ministerial positions. They could have chosen a live in exile and live comfortably in Europe and America. They could have been easily like us. Ethiopia is no more a mother to them than us that they find themselves in where they are now.
However, Eskinder Nega and the others went to prison because they are visionaries and have faith in the people. They believed the people, with the help of the Almighty God, will soon deliver them from Kaliti Prison. Though emotionally and physically painful is their incarceration (to them and their families), they are filled with hope and see a prosperous, unique and democratic Ethiopia beyond the walls of Kaliti prison. The hope of a better Ethiopia has given them the strength to endure their pain.
We may not see them and listen to what they say in person. However, we can hear them in spirit. From Kaliti, they are calling to us to stand up and continue the struggle. They are asking for our help and support. We must not let them down.
It seems the Diaspora is disillusioned, confused, and retracting itself from the struggle because it feels it could not make a difference. Many of us are possessed with the spirit of self-defeatism and despair. We are losing the battle before it starts.
We may not have supported the EPRDF. We may not have directly contributed to the incarceration of our brothers and sisters. However, our silence is the reason UDJ/Medrek leaders and journalists are still in jail. Our silence is providing bullets for the EPRDF forces.
I am afraid Eskinder Nega, Reyot Alemu, Adwalem Aragie, Wubshet Taye, Bekele Gerba, Olbana Lelessa, Nathaniel Mekononen, and Hirut Kifle will be the new Professor Asrats and the new Birtukan Midekssas. For sure, they will not be released unless an earthquake happens in the minds and perspectives of Ethiopians. How could Kaliti prisoners be released by the tyrannical EPRDF government unless Ethiopians make it happen?
At this time, the brave democracy activists are in jail not because the EPRDF is strong. They are in jail because Ethiopians are weak, selfish, and silent.
In struggles, there are ups and downs. Some may say, “It is impossible to force change in the Zenawi administration”. Our efforts may seem meaningless. On the surface, the democratic struggle may seem to have “vanished”. The situation in Ethiopia may be “calm” with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at the helm of power. HOWEVER, WE SHOULD NEVER GIVE UP. It may take years. We might not see a free Ethiopia in our own time. But our children will one day rejoice in a free, prosperous and democratic Ethiopia.
The Great American President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. The only power the EPRDF forces have is their excellent use of the public media. They are good at dividing the opposition and spreading fear among the general public. They want us to fear them. More than its guns, the EPRDF is using FEAR effectively to crush the will of the people. Fear cripples the energy of the human mind.
A handful of EPRDF rulers are able to control the Tigray region and the rest of Ethiopia with an iron fist and unleash fear and terror. They have built up an image of themselves in the mind of many Ethiopians that they are like “gods”. They have successfully established the idea that they are untouchables and that whoever stands in their way will be crushed.
It is time to think of the EPRDF as what it is, a rotten and dying organization. It has no popular support from any region including Tigray. It does not have military strength as many of us might think. The armed forces are disintegrating. They are losing confidence and getting more and more desperate. Their refusal to sit around the negotiating table and start a dialogue with the oppositions shows by itself their lack of confidence. Since they are filled with insecurity and inferiority, they consider everyone their enemy.
It is in this context that I call for a renewal of vision. Instead of being filled with fear and an image of a big “Meles Zenawi”, we should learn to believe in ourselves. “What is man without freedom” said Judge Birtukan Mideksa. A life lived in fear and despair is no better than death. A life lived without a purpose is a tragedy.
It is time to be free from the bondage of fear and ignorance. Freedom starts from within. A man who only thinks of himself and forgets where he came from, is a man who is spiritually poor and sick.
I have hope. I see the potentials of Ethiopians. Ethiopia has so many talented children and tremendous strategic resources. If we have peace and love, if we believe in ourselves, if we look to our brothers and sisters, if we stop being silent on matters that matter , if we allow our God-given talent and energy to come from within us, we would solve our problems on our own and free our brave democracy fighters from prison.
Eskinder and the others did their duty. Let us do ours. It all starts from each one of us. Ethiopia is equal for all Ethiopians. There is no reason one should pay a bigger sacrifice than another. It is time to speak out and assert our freedom in our country. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. God has given us a country called Ethiopia. He has given us the right to live in peace and dignity in Ethiopia. The EPRDF must not be allowed to continue denying us, our God given rights and our dignity.
Let us say No to brutality and torture! Let us say No to dictatorship and ethnic politics! Let us say No to war and poverty! Let us say No to the status quo!
May Our Lord God stretch out his scepter of Peace towards our country!
May He touch us with his Spirit of Freedom and Courage so that we can be free from fear and reclaim our God given rights to live in a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Ethiopia where the rights of its entire people are respected regardless of age, ethnic affiliation, religion, and gender!