Letter from Kaliti Prison

January 9th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

By an anonymous political prisoner | March 8, 2007

Greetings to you. We are doing fine.

Although we are physically faced with so many challenges, our spirits are always high. I do not deny my disappointment in not having heard from you for a long time. I know you would conscientiously and regularly write to me if you only knew how encouraging and spiritually uplifting it is to hear from you, particularly through those letters that are informational. In any case, I do hope to hear from you regularly in the future. I am heartened to hear about your efforts on our behalf, and can’t wait to hear about them in greater detail. I am grateful for what you do.

I have a delightful relationship with CUD leaders – some you know, and some you don’t. I cherish in particular, my relationship with Dr. Berhanu Nega. However, people like Dr. Befekadu Degefe, Dr. Yaekob Haile Mariam, Engineer Hailu Shawl and many others hold me in high regard and have great hopes for me, boosting my self esteem and hope. You have to realize that the sense of hope that is felt in Europe does not quite exist here.
The reality is very different. It seems that the road to the removal of the Woyane from power and the institutionalization of democratic rule in this country is going to be a long one. As per your request, I can explain to you the vision that the CUD has. However, do not anticipate that we will be released in a matter of weeks or even months. The hearts of the Woyanne have not submitted yet. They have not yet felt the pressure, although the problems have been piling up— particularly in the economic situation and the Somalia affair. Yet, they seem to think that they still have some room to play.

Some people have been coming here to mediate recently. The lead person is Professor Ephraim Yishak. Though he seems to be genuine, he lacks clarity on the issues. On the part of the EPRDF, the effort seems to be not quite to negotiate, but rather to gauge the temperature. They send ideas and messages that [I think] are amusing. Though indirectly worded, the messages sent to us demand that we support this government, in everything it does, to stand by it, particularly against the so called war on terror against Somalia, to withdraw support to those entities who they describe as “anti-constitutional”?, to condemn the Alliance”¦ and such demands, as it attempts to extend the duration of its rule. In return, it is attempting to offer our release as if it were a gift. We have a good position on this. In the first place, there is no one that is not eager to be released. However, if in the first place, the government wants to negotiate with us, we are prisoners of conscience, and should therefore be released. There can be no negotiation in the absence of freedom. Secondly, all political prisoners need to be released. Journalists, and civil society leaders have to be released. All political parties’ offices should reopen and resume business. The free press should be back in operation. To bring about enduring peace in the country, all elements who feel that they have a stake should be convened in the shortest amount of time possible. There should be a totally independent body set up to see to it that all of these things are in place.

Of course we have been given the date of February 19, for a ruling. There is a rumor that those of us who have had no evidence presented, and no witness testify against them, will be released. Of the 365 witnesses that the prosecution had, it had dismissed 289 before it rested its case. I tend to think that even if the court rules that the case is dismissed and I am ordered released, they will just wait for me at the gate, arrest me again, and accuse me of new charges. They have done such things against political prisoners for a long time. In any case, I do not fret over it, as only God holds the future. The only thing I can tell you is my life is going on just the way I have chosen. So, I don’t worry. I am not too anxious about being released. I would not even regret my possible passing for the liberty of millions, for justice and prosperity (in all, democracy). I feel that that is why I am on this earth. Just like any other citizen, I could have chosen to work, get educated, tend to my family, raise children, etc. That is the life that anyone can easily embrace. However, I am consciously and purposely choosing a path where at the end of my life I would like to reflect on my deeds and accomplishments as having passed not through that routine life, but rather the one that I am enduring now. Truth be told, the fact that I come from a family with very modest means, may not have allowed all these opportunities to be open and afforded some of the resources required. I always worry about my family. I have hopes for them. With God’s help, I know that you all are giving them as much support as you can, and I am really grateful for that. I hope that I will be one day able to reciprocate.

After we were arrested, in October and November we were “interrogated”? at various police stations, Qebele offices and warehouses where they conducted nasty “investigation”? procedures against us, before they took us to Ma’ekelawi, the Criminal Investigation Office, into the dark rooms. There, the “investigation”? continued, where we had no contact with each other for 20-30 days before they grouped us into cells. Each one of us, has had to endure extremely difficult conditions. However, what Engineer Hailu has had to go through is by far the most egregious, and he still suffers from the complications. He was in an extremely cold and damp room for over 20 days after which he still has difficulty in moving his legs. In fact, the room goes by the name, “The Fridge Room”?.

After we were moved to Qaliti, the conditions can briefly be described as follows. There are a variety of prisoners””political prisoners, those charged with murder, burglary, “hooliganism”?, corruption and so on. The ages of the prisoners range from 16 into the 70s. There are some who have received the death sentence, life in prison, and those with a sentence of confinement for over 10 years as well as those with pending cases. The majority of political prisoners outside of our group are alleged Oromo Liberation Front members and are either detained after the May 2005 elections or for over six years with indefinitely pending cases.

One of the areas has what are called “dangerous thieves”?. Some of them are in handcuffs, and manacles, some even on both their ankles and wrists, having been labeled “extremely dangerous”?. All in all, this place is what you would call hell.

Even worse is the zone that houses people like Muluneh Eyoel, and Andualem Agena from CUD, and Eskender Nega from among the journalists where over 3200 people, and the zone housing Mr. Kifle Tigineh and 125 other CUD prisoners, where there are about 1600 people.

While hundreds of people are kept to a room, there are over fifty bunk beds around the periphery of the room. In the middle, hundreds of people sleep in the room sleep in crowded conditions. The number does fluctuate. Of those who sleep on the floor some are forced to share mattresses when it’s overcrowded. The dimensions are no more than a few hundred square metres and therefore the space per person is roughly a little over half a square foot. It is in this space that a person sleeps, eats, and spends the day. In particular since dinnertime is after the doors are closed, the conditions are horrible. The prison does not even provide plates, so, some of the prisoners have to eat on plastic sheets spread out on the floor. We have our families rotate and take turns to bring us supplies and food. So, we have not needed to use the food supplied by the prison. It provides very dark injera baked with soil-contaminated flour, and shiro. Since the taste is not at all appealing it does not have much demand. So, if anyone is interested in second helpings it is always available. The bread we receive in the morning is very good, and is quite edible. The tea is neither good nor bad and there is plenty of it, for anyone to drink as much as they would like.

It is most difficult to describe conditions pertaining to health in this prison. If we described everything just the way it is, you all might think that it is simply an exaggeration, and might even dismiss it. So, I will just describe a few things. There are mentally ill people in the prison and we try to take care of them as best we can and give them good food. There are a few blind people, and several elderly people and people who have lung disease and cough away all night. Skin diseases and the common cold are so common we don’t even consider them an illness. The quota for the number of prisoners who can go to the clinic on one day has been five for a long time and with persistent complaint, has now been increased to seven. This opportunity of course goes to those who are extremely sick. The doors to the rooms are open from 6 AM to 5 PM so that we are able to go outside.

All in all, you can say that Qaliti is the path to hell. I used to have a much simpler view of life. That has completely changed now. Since life in prison is so unpredictable and I cannot imagine any situation that is more fluid, I find it difficult to reflect on and think through my future while I am still incarcerated. In order to protect myself from the stress of the unpredictability and the uncertainty of life here, I am willing and ready to face whatever I may be confronted with. Considering the threats, abuse and intimidation that prisoners are faced with, [particularly the younger political prisoners] the amount of provocation we all go through is amazing. It is assumed that they do these things just to find excuse to drag us out and shoot us.

Although I have no clear vision of what my future will be, I am sure that it may vary from time to time, depending on the reality on the ground. However, I am determined to be a man of love till the end. One thing I am sure of is that no one was created evil; those that have done so much evil against me have only committed it based on their knowledge and information. There is no evil person or tribe. Our responsibility is to begin to show them the benefits and absolute necessity of liberty and democracy for themselves and their children. This can be accomplished with love and only with love. While I am committed to tirelessly struggling in a peaceful manner until they are willing to establish a system of governance based on the rule of law and equality, my party was built with the commitment and support of many many people who have sacrificed so much, bled and even died for it. Thousands still languish in many warehouses throughout the country. All of this is closely tied to the process of establishment of a democratic system in this country. For this, I would like to remain alive and acquire more knowledge. In this prison, I have had the opportunity to read a lot and benefit from the accumulated knowledge and experience of others. In the future, I would like to acquire formal education to complement this. But the education has to be one that would not demand my abandoning political life. I would like to acquire good education of a type that would allow me to continue to work for this party. I will continue to struggle for the establishment of a system where all are equal before the law and the rule of law reigns supreme.

What I am most worried about is not the fall of the Woyanne, but rather about its replacement by another system that would embroil the public in yet another cycle of extreme hardship and desperation when it does . I will not hesitate to work hard against this. I do not have the mandate to formally present the party’s vision in detail. So, I want to make sure that what I present here is not taken as the final party statement. With that understood, to give you a general idea of the party’s vision, it should be known first and foremost, that the party is so democratic that the vision, foresight and expectation that each individual in the leadership has is amazing. Therefore neither those in leadership or the others see their release from prison as their primary goal, although it is almost impossible to imagine yet another day in this prison The party’s primary purpose is to build democratic institutions in Ethiopia, and right now, we all worry that we may get to a point where none of us may be able to save this country. So, the one thing that this party demands as a matter of principle is the establishment of the rule of law and the democratic process. For this to happen all of those who feel they have a stake ““ and this includes those engaged in combat- to come to the table and engage in a process of national reconciliation. We can then build the new Ethiopia based on equality for all under the law and based on respect for individual liberty. This new system will establish once and for all a mechanism where power will be handed in an accountable, limited and controlled manner and by the ballot only.

The other important thing to know is that our purpose is not to destroy the EPRDF. In fact, we know that the EPRDF can and should be part of the solution to our country’s problems.

That there is someone like Dr. Berhanu Nega in this party is amazing. The value that he places in the establishment of the democratic process during his life, the desire that he has for liberty, the love that he has for those who consider him an enemy, is incredible. He has, in spite of all of this misery helped me to find the love within me and for that, I consider him my role model and admire him greatly. None of us doubts for a second that he is the future hope for this country. Let alone the prisoners, even our jailers understand that. For my part, although I admire and respect all of those who kept their commitment and went to prison for their beliefs, Dr. Berhanu Nega’s yearning for and determination to bring about liberty and democracy and the ensuing economic development and guarantee of peace for all citizens in particular forces me to think that let alone my life and incarceration, I wouldn’t mind my death being tied to him and the cause. This country has to be able to use this man. She can’t afford to lose him. He is a true social democrat. I am not just his admirer, but his true follower till the end.

All right, I have written you all of the above. Though I do not know how much you want it, I have given you as much as I can for now. Please write to me too. I will be writing to you.

Your friend,

Source: Qaliti Qalkidan

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