Birtukan’s Release and the fate Ethiopia’s Political Prisoners

Birtukan Midheksa’s release shall not overshadow providence of other prisoners of conscience: The campaign must continue until ALL the allegedly restrained prisoners are released.

Nemera Gebeyehu*

First of all I would like to extend congratulation to Ms. Birtukan Midheksa, her 6 year daughter Haale Midheksa, her mother Mrs Almaz G.E. and all her supporters from different corners. It is great news for UDJ leaders and members, supporters and the international community who have intensified the campaign for her release from that worst physical and  psychological restrain. Although the fact of her release is agreeable, we should not forget that her release also embellish the political propaganda of the tyrant Meles Zenawi. The release of Birtukan Midheksa may label despot Meles Zenawi as a “democratic” government who make pardon for political prisoners in the eyes of international community. For her release Meles already calculated the plus or score he is getting from the westerners who have well equipped him mentally and physically over the past two decades. Despite the fact we Ethiopians agree with Meles Zenawi’s government feature of inequitable, unfair, undemocratic, autocratic, high-handed, dictatorial and unconstitutional rule, his opportunistic effort move up his credibility in the eyes of international community.

From the recent awful fact, we have witnessed that European Union and United States observers said the election polls back in May 2010 fell short of international standards. However, Meles Zenawi was simply confirmed his fourth five-year term as prime minister, following his party’s overwhelming victory on the election. So the release of Ms. Birtukan after the short period of Meles Zenawi’s landslide win in elections will definitely reduce the reliability of the observations undertaken about the election in particular and the political climate in general. As The Reporter journalist said, many political analysts may say that the decision of freeing Ms. Birtukan by Meles Zenawi is an enormous political success by itself and at the same time the opposition’s camp is running out of agendas to make its case against Meles Zenawi’s government (EPRDF). Dr. Merara Gudina pointed out, “from he point of view of international pressure, indeed her release would score points for the government. It would win the government the favourable attitude of the international community. However, it does not mean that the question of the eighty million Ethiopian people has been answered.” The former Secretary General of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), Mr. Bekele Jirata, also confirmed that, “the release of Ms. Birtukan alone can never absolve Prime Minister Meles Zenawi from the crimes he has committed and is still committing against the Oromo people and all humanity in Ethiopia and beyond.”

Since Meles Zenawi came to power, in 1991, there are thousands of examples of individuals who are considered political prisoners on suspicion of their connection with the OLF and are currently being held despite not having a trial or being subject to any other judicial process. According to Amnesty International 2008 Appeal, ‘most of them (detained/tortured Oromo political prisoners) are reportedly held without the means or right to communicate in detention facilities in Addis Ababa, including Maikelawi, where torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners has been reported in the past.’ TPLF regime of Meles Zenawi had sentenced leading Oromo intellectuals including political leaders, lawyers, engineers, professors, students and business people to death, life sentence, and long years of imprisonment.

Recently, on March 31, 2010, the Ethiopian Kangaroo Federal Court passed a death sentence and life prison to Mesfin Abebe Abdiisaa and Tasfahun Camadaa Gurmessaa, respectively. After 8 weeks, on May 20, 2010, the same Ethiopian Kangaroo Federal Court gave a death sentence and life prison to other Oromo civilians, Mrs. Dirribee Ittaanaa (sentenced to death), Mr. Dagguu Ittaanaa (sentenced to death), Mrs. Urgee Abebe (sentenced to death), Mr. Daniel Jaallataa (sentenced to death), Mr. Girma Raggaasaa (Life imprisonment). There are also many others who have been falsely accused and abducted from their homes and their work places on suspicion of their links with the OLF. Generally speaking, Ethiopians (in links with OLF, Ginbot 7, ONLF and other opposition parties) have been arrested for their alleged involvement in opposition parties, and others have been arrested for their family members’ political opposition to the government.

Thus, the release of a single political prisoner (out of the thousands) should not overshadow the providence of other political prisoners in Ethiopia. Leslie Lefkow, senior Horn of Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, witnessed that, “Freeing Birtukan was a positive move. However, her release does not change the fact that Ethiopia’s human rights situation remains dire.” Since she was rearrested in December 2008 the campaign solely concentrated on the release of Birtukan. Then, Meles Zenawi responded opportunistically bearing in mind the score his government has been getting from international community for such little effort. By using this chance, I would like to extend my word of warning to all Ethiopian freedom lovers and fighters to persevere the campaign or struggle in favor of pushing for real political reforms in Ethiopia, including the release of thousands of political prisoners. All those political prisoners restrained in jail have got no chance if we who are “free” do not continue the campaign or struggle for their release.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

*The writer can be contacted at getnemera@hotmail.com



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