Free speech alive in France; dying in Ethiopia By Robele Ababya
Thank God, free speech, the basis for all other freedoms, is alive in France
The French Revolution (1789 – 1799) was preceded by the Age of Enlightenment in Western Europe in which intellectual giants and philosophers like Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Pierre Bayle, Voltaire, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Cesare Beccaria, Immanuel Kant, and Isaac Newton influenced society by publishing widely read works. Coinciding with the Age of Enlightenment was the Scientific Revolution, spearheaded by England’s Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727). Their noble works fostered the principle of tolerance to diverse ideas and acceptance of multiple religious beliefs to take center-stage in the development of society with which some rulers went along. Voltaire was among these intellectuals of the Enlightenment who gave the world this immortal quote: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it“; the quote is attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire (1694 – 1778) who died 11 years before the outbreak of the Revolution.
French citizens regardless of their ethnic background, religious creed, social status, political affiliation or ideology came out in demonstration of epic proportion estimated at over 3.7 million participants across France – a number reportedly unprecedented in modern history of France. In Paris alone 1.6 million demonstrators showed up at Republic Square including world leaders representing more than 40 countries. The peaceful demonstration had one and only one singular objective, which is defending freedom of speech guaranteed by the French Constitution in which the values of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity are enshrined. Indeed, as emphatically and unanimously confirmed by the demonstrators, freedom of speech is an indispensable prerequisite for all other freedoms!
The quote by the renowned philosopher Voltaire came to light on 07 January 2015 during the mammoth demonstration underlining the invaluable legacy of free speech remarkably upheld by the French people to this date as witnessed by the Slogan: “I suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) predominantly displayed on placards carried by millions of demonstrators on 07 January 2015. Other slogans in display included:- “I am a Jew”; I am a Muslim”; “J suis La Libertié” – the last one caught my attention in particular in that it aligned with my own conviction that each individual is responsible to claim his/her liberty while respecting the liberty of others under the rule of law. Others carried placards that displayed a pen (Bic) signifying the old adage that “The pen is mightier than the sword”; it did fit the occasion squarely serving as a lesson that journalism is indispensable in the 21st century in enhancing morale rearmament in order to avert the increasingly worrisome regional wars and violence in our global village.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam existed side by side in Ethiopia for centuries in relative harmony. So, the slogans in the above paragraph pertaining to ones’ race or religion are not new to Ethiopians – it is rather a matter of pride to us in that we were the first example of tolerance to freedom of creed.
The right to free speech is alive in France and beyond
The triumphant return of the Charlie Hebdo Magazine is a deadly blow to the terrorists and their mentors. Its courageous editorial staff decided to increase the publication of the Magazine from 60, 000 to 3million copies in response to worldwide demand. This is testimony to the quest for free speech in all its forms tolerated in all genuinely democratic societies. Je suis aussie Charlie! (I too am Charlie!)
Among the demonstrators, I noticed a family who came all the way 40 kilometers north of Paris from Dammartin-en-Goële, where the terrorist Kouachi brothers were captured and eventually killed by the brave French special security forces. The demonstrating father was carrying his child on his shoulder. A seasoned journalist asked him why he brought his entire family including the child. The father responded that it was because his child while watching the event on TV became restive and fearful that war was going on. So, he brought the child to show him that it was a peaceful massive demonstration taking place to condemn the few terrorists. This was an invaluable lesson that will be engraved on his mind as he grows up in the frame of mind that the overwhelming majority of his fellow citizens are gentle and peaceful. This is an example of parental responsibility of doing their share to educate their children.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a glowing tribute at the Synagogue in Paris to a young Muslim from Mali who had managed to escape from the kosher grocery and gave vital information to the police enabling them to raid the grocery and save seven Jewish lives. The congregation in the Synagogue received the news given by the Prime Minister with rousing applause in appreciation of the Black Muslim. I heard the warm applause on the BBC radio broadcast.
Demonstrations were held in London, Germany and U.S.A. in support of the demonstration in Paris. Chancellor Angela Merkel unequivocally declared that Islam is part of Germany; she was overwhelmingly supported by her fellow citizens for that brave declaration. Congratulations to German citizens!
Free speech and all other freedoms dying in Ethiopia – shame on EPRDF
The EPRDF regime is busy on building the personality cult of the late tyrant Meles Zenawi – dubbed by the TPLF top leaders as ‘The Statesman leading Africa’. Under the leadership of tyrant Zenawi, the TPLF/EPRDF regime massively cheated in the successive elections of 2005 and 2010 and criminally kept power by the gun as briefly presented below.
In my Open letter to H.E Chairperson of the AU dated 08 February 2013, I wrote: – Quote “On that historic day of 07 May 2005 before the election on 15 May 2005, a truly mammoth crowd estimated at 2.5 – 3 million inundated the streets and squares of Addis Ababa to support the now defunct Kinijit Party (Coalition for Unity and Democracy). That sea of humanity was acclaimed internationally for its magnificent display of decorum and civility; it ended peacefully without a single incident of violence.
The unprecedented massive support for Kinijit was followed by an unprecedented turn out of massive voters on 15 May 2005 in which the ruling party suffered a humiliating defeat failing to win a single seat in Addis Ababa where the AU Headquarters is located. Tyrant Meles declared a state of emergency and swiftly implemented his plan B that resulted in killing close to 200 peaceful protesters by trained snipers; throwing the victors to filthy prison; incarcerating tens of thousands of opposition supports, mostly young shaving their heads with unsterilized blades without regard to widespread STDs of that time.
What is really shocking is that the African Union which had sent its observers to the above election pronounced the election free and fair and recognized the TPLF party as the winner.
What is even more shocking is that one of the senior diplomats of the AU, Ambassador Patrick Mazimhaka, hailing from Rwanda overstepped diplomatic norms and blamed the opposition in public for the popular unrest in the aftermath of the election. It is a shame that this Rwandan forgot so soon, in the comfort of luxury that dollar-paid diplomats enjoy in Addis Ababa, the close to one million victims of genocide in his country by the Hutu extremists inciting and exacerbating ethnic differences. The TPLF regime used the holocaust as an example in Rwanda to stifle dissent in Ethiopia in the aftermath of election 2005; but the scare didn’t work in a tolerant country, Ethiopia, where unity in diversity had lived in exemplary relative harmony for centuries. Unquote
I went on to say “It is bizarre indeed that Ambassador Mazimhaka sided with the brutal TPLF party in the face of condemnation of the state-sponsored atrocities by esteemed international institutions such as the Congress of the United States and prominent leaders in the United Kingdom including Prime Minister Tony Blair. His bias in favor of the ruling clique, even before the start of an independent investigation promised by Meles to the international community, is confounding and disappointing. “
In the subsequent Ethiopian election of 2010 the ruling party claimed 99.6% ‘win’ of the 547 parliamentary seats. The European Observer Mission decried the election process as neither free nor fair; the White House endorsed the ruling of the Mission. But the AU Observer Team once again declared the election free and fair!!
As if the above gross abuse to democratic principles and values is not enough, the EPRDF regime has already started rigging in advance the May 2015 election with the aim to scoring 100% of all seats by disqualifying strong rival parties under legally and morally inadmissible pretense.
It is a shame that the TPLF is celebrating its so-called 40th anniversary at this time when political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Ethiopia including: – Andualem Aragie, Eskinder Nega, Andargachew Tsige, Abraha Desta, Bekele Gerba, Reeyot Alemu, Haptamu Ayalew, Daniel Shibeshi, Yeshiwas Assefa, Leaders of the Ethiopian Muslims, the 9 bloggers and 3 Journalists, Temesgen Desalegn and tens of thousands others are languishing in filthy jails in Ethiopia. It is a shame to celebrate the anniversary when basic freedoms of expression are blocked and journalism is considered a crime by the repressive regime.
Freedoms of expression have been muzzled by the TPLF/EPRDF regime for the last 23+ years in colonized Ethiopia. All pillars of democracy are under the tight control of the merciless and lawless repressive regime. Political leaders and renowned journalists are either in prison or in exile. In a nutshell, a totalitarian regime scoffing Western democratic values is misruling Ethiopia. One would hope that Western powers, the U.K. and U.S.A. in particular, would rethink their policy of providing political and financial support to regime at the expense of their taxpaying citizens. They have to do so considering the strategic location of Ethiopia bordering the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa that separates her by a short distance from the Middle East in political turmoil of epic proportion probably leading to disintegration of states like Libya, Iraq, and Syria.
Finally, I would like to extend my deep condolences to the families of martyrs who lost their lives as well as to their loved ones, relatives, friends and the entire citizens of France.
President Francois Hollande on 07 January 2015 proclaimed Paris as the Capital City of the World. So be it going forward globally in the spirit of “Je suis aussie Charlie!”
LONG LIVE ETHIOPIA!!!