The individual on Judge Bertukan – Part two by Yilma Bekele
This is the second part of my series on the Ethiopian Prime Ministers Interview with local and international reporters. The Interviews took two hours with the local reporters and an hour and half with the foreign press. Most were repetition of the same theme therefore I will deal in detail with the few issues I feel are important for us to have a deeper understanding.
Today I will deal with the explanation given regarding Judge Bertukan Mideksa’s second arrest and imprisonment to serve a life time sentence by Judge Adil Ahmed after the so called pardon grant by the government. I felt it was important that the reader follows ‘the individuals account’ verbatim and I have offered the entire transcript of his response. I apologize for the length of the article but it was necessary.
Unlike the answers to explain the Somali invasion or the state of the economy where he was constantly looking at the monitor on his desk, ‘the individual’ answered the question on Judge Bertukan from memory. From this it is possible to extrapolate that the issue is personal to him and the exact similarities of the answers both in Amharic and English show that it has been rehearsed at length. Here is the twenty-seven seconds question and a little over seven minutes answer.
Question woman ferenji reporter:
I would like to ask about Bertukan Mideksa, when your government had any discretion in deciding whether to proceed with action on her problem, her breaking the pardon conditions, if you had any discretion and what your attitude would be if you didn’t have discretion how you feel the political effect of being this tragic event?
Answer ‘the individual’
Uh..You are not asking the substance of the dispute and therefore I assumed you are informed enough not to need
Reporter: Mr. Bereket explained it to us.
Answer ‘the individual’
“So I will go ahead with the explanation now uh…uh..I can tell you uh..I was not enthused by uh.. the fact that this lady is in prison uh.. there is nothing that I personally or the government as a government will gain from the incident but I feel we were put in an almost impossible situation uh.. Politically and legally. Legally the law says that if a pardon is given under false pretenses it has to immediately be annulled that is what the law says uh..now when this lady says that she did not ask for pardon that this was a political gain not a legal process as such then it put into question the very decision the pardon had. It means that the initial request is wrong. It was not true or false. If the initial request is false then the law says it has to be, the pardon has to be annulled automatically. So legally there was not much room for maneuver uh.. so the only room for maneuver we could create for ourselves was to take time in implementing it and we took time in implementing it. Uh..we took time in implementing it in a sense that as soon as she arrived after making the statement we notified her of the implication of her statement uh..we notified her about the need for her to reaffirm her pardon request and therefore to correct the statement that she made abroad and to do so in a timely manner. So she was given I think adequate time to think and save all of us the headaches setback that would necessarily have resulted in. Now unfortunately she was not as cooperative as I would like her to be. She refused to correct her statement. After she refused to correct her statement we have no legal discretion what we could do uh…uh…what the law of pardon says. Politically too we have very little room for maneuver uh.. because it was in my view practically why she would refuse to reaffirm a sentence a statement that she had signed in front of the court in front of witnesses uh.. other than the assumption that the government would not dare to register the court sentence. She must have assumed that the government would not dare do that and I think that assumption have been based on the hope and expectations that she might have felt that she had powerful friends in powerful positions who would have been in place to press Ethiopian government to make sure that they do not that the government does not put her back behind bars again. Uh..uh.. She might have felt that she could create enough havoc by imprisonment to create enough havoc for the government to be punitive about taking a step. Now had we indulged her in that assumptions the message could have completely be something … would be if you are a bigwig nothing happens to you no matter what you do, if you have the right name in the right places you can ride roughshod on everything and you will still arrive safely when you arrive home. That message I think is a very dangerous political message to convey in an emerging democracy. The rules of law and equality of everybody even bigwigs before the law are central to the healthy development of the political processes in our country. Have we dilly dallied about this I think we would have endangered uh… the healthy political process so I think we were not given that much room for maneuver politically or legally”
Out of force of habit his first inclination was to bully the reporter and demean her and reinterpret the question. Unfortunately this time the reporter was a ferenji and she had the nerve to interrupt his cynical attempt to put her down. He was clearly taken aback and threw his hand in surprise.
As explanations go it seems to have a logical flow. The problem is in the details. The choice of the word ‘enthused’ is very perplexing. Why anybody would find arresting and jailing a fellow citizen as interesting experience is beyond me. The fact the government follows the uttering of individuals thousands of miles away during a town hall meeting with fellow Ethiopians is by itself very strange.
To think that a government serving eighty million people that are in dire need of the basic necessities of life has the time and energy to spare to deal with one single person to set the record straight is the height of ‘much ado about nothing’. So according to ‘the individual’ all this involvement by the Federal Police, the court and the Prime Minster’s office is to uphold the rule of law and serve justice. Let us take this at face value and agree with the regime. The question arises, is it acceptable practice to break the law in order to uphold the law?
Judge Bertukan was summoned by the Federal Police Commissioner to appear in person. Being a law-abiding citizen she showed up by the appointed time and demanded explanation for the summons. The Commissioner demanded an explanation regarding her statement in Sweden and threatened to revoke the pardon granted by the President of the country. As a person of the law Judge Bertukan simple response was to ask why it was the business of the police to demand explanation since the matter belongs to the court. His response was ‘this is not an academic matter and she should not ask questions.’
She was again summoned to appear using a messenger instead of a legal court order the law requires which she ignored. The Commissioner was forced to send two police officers with legal documents. Again the discussion centered on her ‘statement’ during her foreign visit. Again she stated her belief that this is a matter for the courts not the Federal Police, whereas the Commissioner gave her an ultimatum stating that if she does not disavow her ‘statement’ regarding her pardon within three days she will be taken into custody. Please read Judge Birtukan’s statement regarding this unfortunate situation at http://www.ethiopolitics.com/pdfiles/birtukan_english.pdf
‘The individual’ is substituting his own overblown and runaway imagination to read the state of Judge Bertukan’s mind. Without the benefit of a court of law in the presence of defense lawyer and a hearing he gathered his kangaroo pardon commission and decided the case in one weekend. It has never been explained where the Federal Police got the authority to interpret the law and take matter into its own hands and throw a citizen in jail. The President of the country on whose authority the pardon was granted, the Justice system that approved the process were nowhere to be seen in this tragic drama. In his haste to protect the workings of ‘an emerging democracy’ he sent his private police to arrest a citizen from a street corner roughing up her friends and supporters as an added bonus.
The long-winded explanation and the attempt to sound rational is nothing but one mans attempt to hide illegal and abhorrent behavior behind noble sounding words void of meaning. The fact of the matter is Judge Bertukan does not have an armed group behind her, have never threatened the peace and stability of the country and on numerous occasion have spoken loud and clear of her desire to bring about change using peaceful and legal means. When you consider the fact that the country is experiencing over 14 million citizens requiring immediate food aid, conflict in the Ogaden, stalemate with Eritrea forcing the regime to station thousands of idle solders on the border, forty to sixty percent inflation, acute shortage in foreign currency reserves it is the height of folly to force conflict on society. A responsible leader rallies his people to gather together and confront the emergency knocking on our door.
‘The individual’ says he does not understand why she refuses to agree with his interpretation of the so-called ‘pardon’. The simple fact that she might be right in her assertion does not even enter his mind. The logical move to gather the ‘elders’ that facilitated the process and arriving at a mutual accommodation is completely foreign to him and his associates. It is my way or the highway mentality at work. But can a government use its resources to prove a point no matter the consequences? Is governing a task of balancing the many needs and conflicting demands of society or an exercise in the use of intimidation and coercive methods to stay in power.
It was the great mountaineer George Mallory who said ‘because it is there’ when asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. That is good for mountains, but governments do not arrest and torture citizens because they are there. Just because you can do something it doesn’t mean you should. It is only children and immature adults that give in to their impulses and suffer the consequences of their hasty deeds.
So where do we stand now? Judge Bertukan is in solitary confinement denied visitation rights by family and friends, books, radio and consultation with her attorneys. It has been fifty-eight days since her arrest. The regime is pretending that the matter is closed and we should all go home and forget about the injustice. It is just a wishful thinking on their part. The Ethiopian people are silently witnessing another bizarre behavior by not elected cadres masquerading as legitimate leaders. The Ethiopian Diaspora are using all available resources to remind the world of the injustice and possibility of a man-made disaster in our ancient kingdom. The European Union, the US government and Congress are demanding her immediate release and respect for human right. International organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders are recording their displeasure and asking for an all out effort to secure hers and other political prisoners release.
After everything is said we again ask Prime Minster Meles to find the time to step out of this bubble prison he has managed to insulate himself for the last eighteen years and try to see the real Ethiopia he has forgotten. Meet the other seventy-nine million five hundred thousand who can only manage one meal a day if at all, the mothers that witness their children die of hunger in their arms, the families that can not even dream of a better tomorrow for their children, the fathers that work on a plot of land as big as a basketball field day in and day out but can not even grow enough to sustain life, the young ones whose mal-nutritioned body with their bloated stomachs are waiting for death, the youth who are not capable of envisioning a better life and waste away in front of their families, and those that make a deal with the devil and attempt to cross rivers and oceans to far away places based on rumors of the possibility of work and decent living but end up as dinner for wild animals or sharks while a few are found washed away on strange shores. We say to you life and living is not a test of ones will and a stage to prove ones might and manhood. Our country has seen cruel usurpers, benevolent monarchs and misguided solders that have brought calamity and hardship on our people. They are all gone but their misdeeds are etched in our psyches and minds for generations to come.
We ask you to see the bigger picture and remember the promise and oath you made when you assumed that powerful position which entitles you to have the power of life and death over eighty million people and stop this path of destruction and ruin that you have chosen.
Thus the argument goes that she refused to cooperate and accept ‘one man rule’ because she thought she has powerful friends. The fact of the matter is she does have powerful friends all over the world. Their power is not measured in armed solders, guns or tanks but in the strength of their character and their determination to stand up for what is right. Our sister, mother and leader knew the cost of fighting for freedom in a hostile environment. She knew there was risk involved. Leaders are willing to pay the price. She is following the footsteps of Gandhi, Marin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi. This episode is the third time Judge Bertukan Mideksa is being tested. We promise the regime we will not stop our struggle to free our people from the clutches of dictatorship and fascism and we are sure that in the end we shall overcome. That my friend is never in doubt!