Zero tolerance for regimes holding prisoners of conscience – By Robele Ababya (, January 29, 2009

January 29th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

Empty promise of democracy

Absolutely nothing saddens me more than thinking of Birtukan Mideksa back in jail for exercising her right to freedom of expression, more so as leader of a popular political party, UDJP.


Empty promise of democracy

Absolutely nothing saddens me more than thinking of Birtukan Mideksa back in jail for exercising her right to freedom of expression, more so as leader of a popular political party, UDJP.

Her unwarranted imprisonment is an insult to Ethiopians and the civilized world by thugs who were hiding for 32 years in their stronghold in Tigrai memorizing passages from old books on communism while the rest of the world was advancing in science and technology – and communism was sinking unable to withstand the sweeping advance.

The vicious converts to the dead ideology came out of their hideouts with the catch words “Nefetegna” (one who bears arms) and “Akakizeraf” (exclaimed resolve to counter threats) to vilify and sow the seed of hatred against the Amhara ethnic group because of its steadfast advocacy for the unity of Ethiopia. The word unity (andinet) scares the regime for it runs counter to its divide-and-rule doctrine crafted to keep it in power. The doctrine is miserably failing because the choice of the Ethiopian people is unity in diversity as amply demonstrated in the historic election of 15 May 2005. The regime is desperate and ruthlessly intolerant to any advocate of unity regardless of his/her ethnic origin. I surmise that this is one of the main reasons for putting in jail the leader of UDJP (Andinet) – a strong political party established on our home soil for the first time in our long history.

Freedom of expression is natural right

Freedom of expression is a natural right like food, shelter and clothing. The list has become longer by recent addition of rights to health and free universal primary education. Therefore governments have neither legal nor moral authority to infringe on these rights.

I was persuaded by this belief when I wrote my first ever news paper article published on the Ethiopian Herald in the aftermath of the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution. In that article I pleaded with the Imperial regime to relax the political space and allow freedom of expression and formation of political parties. The Monarch was too old to show any flexibility. I told the same thing to the coward Mengistu face-to-face (I have the record) and got myself into big trouble (details withheld for now) and eventually ended up in the Diaspora. I am saying the same thing to tyrant Meles from my abode in the Diaspora. Dictators ultimately fall from power in disgrace because the word democracy scares them. I am merely stating facts without fear or pursuit or favor.

I envy states like the USA, Canada and Europe where no one is put behind bars for exercising his/her freedom of expression. I congratulate them for this most supreme achievement in defining and protecting this inalienable right of humankind. In doing so, I plead with them to stop their double standards of selectively supporting despotic African leaders like Meles; I respectfully ask these powers to demand this time around the immediate and unconditional release of Judge Birtukan Mideksa. It would be in the best interest of the Western democracies to come on the side of a popular leader of a party emerging strongly in our ancient land, Ethiopia, where Christianity, Judaism and Islam existed in the spirit of mutual tolerance for centuries.

The TPLF is preaching free-market economy while practicing the Stalinist method of totalitarian control over the lives of citizens. It would be naïve to believe that the leaders of the Western world were duped by what Meles and his cohorts preached. These Western powers should remind Meles of his heinous crimes and stop the lavish support they are giving him at the expense of taxpayers of their respective countries.

Responsibility of the international community

My understanding of the purpose of a government is to create enabling environment for the people, as creators and owners of that government, to provide these rights for themselves through binding covenant of collective security enshrined in their constitution, laws, customs and tradition. This cardinal principle is arrogantly violated in Ethiopia today.

Collective security was reason for the creation of the UN and its predecessor the League of Nations. It is a shame that dictators like Meles are disturbing collective peace in the Horn of Africa under the watch of the UN and AU.

States are supposed to genuinely respect and enforce the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despotic regimes must not be allowed to hide behind the veil of sovereignty to terrorize their citizens and discourage the development of democracy by jailing leaders like Birtukan. Otherwise it would be fool hardy to expect a better world in which the overwhelming majority shares neither its wealth nor freedom.

For the sake of ushering in a better world, the UN should therefore play a leading role in excluding despotic governments muzzling freedom of expression from the community of nations. The UN should enforce the rule of “Zero tolerance for regimes holding prisoners of conscience”.

Matter of conscience

Ethiopia is an ancient civilization with enviable culture and bravery of her people in rising against external aggression. Unfortunately, she was unable to create governments accountable to the people. I have in my life time seen three despotic regimes, the current one being the worst for manifesting characters of a colonizer bent on relegating the people of Ethiopia to subservience. Thus my dream of a life time to see the triumph of democracy in my country has suffered a setback by the re-imprisonment of the icon Judge, Birtukan Mideksa. My conscience speaks to me that this charismatic young lady in prison is a victim of my generation which had miserably failed to bequeath a democratic culture to succeeding generations. The only way to recompense this failure is to dedicate the rest of my life to the noble struggle for freedom and join the rest of my fellow citizens in the demand for the immediate and unconditional release of freedom of Birtukan and all political prisoners in Ethiopia.

This moment in world history

At this moment in its history, human civilization seems intractably embroiled in economic crisis posing uncertain future for the already huge army of unemployed increasing everyday; political hot spots in our global village ready to explode; and adverse climate change threatening the existence of our planet earth. Greed and bad governance are to blame for these three man-made problems. Any hope for their solution essentially needs the will and active cooperation of all in a new world order in which everyone has a fair share as a free individual without fear of punishment for expressing his/her political views.

President Obama came at this time in history with his stated determination and his famous “Yes we can” slogan to change the world. Dictators thrive in hot spots like in the Horn of Africa. It is my ardent hope and fervent prayer that he will effectively deal with those dictators and assist Ethiopians in installing a democratic government in Ethiopia, which has potential capacity of becoming a stabilizing force in the region and a reliable friend of the USA.

Nightmare of TPLF

Ethiopians of mixed race hold commanding numerical superiority. This majority is for unity in diversity. Therefore it will not sit back and do nothing when one of its own, Judge Birtukan Midekssa, is languishing in jail. This makes the TPLF regime nervous in its closet in Addis Ababa. What a nightmare for Meles who has no where to hide his heinous crimes!

“Zero-tolerance to regimes holding prisoners of conscience” coupled with the unity of Ethiopia in diversity is an irresistible call to all democratic opposition forces seeking freedom in earnest. This is another nightmare for Meles.

Act of compassion is an integral part of development. Buildings and roads would be merely a collection of cement, glass and steel in the absence of freedom and prospect of employment for the young generation. The soaring corruption in Ethiopia to day comes from the burgeoning construction industry from which officials of the regime extract substantial kickbacks. The ordinary people living in misery know this. This too adds to the nightmare of the regime.

Ethiopians in the Diaspora are doing a sterling job of mobilizing and securing international support for freedom of expression in Ethiopia. The recent demonstrations held worldwide and more to come in the future pose a nightmare to the repressive TPLF regime.

I salute the patriotic organizers and participants of those demonstrations.


Robele Ababya (

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