The author, a columnist for the now-defunct Ethiopian newspaper Feteh, is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence in Addis Ababa on bogus terrorism charges. The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) honored Alemu with its 2012 Courage in Journalism Award last year, and in May 2013, the UNESCO recognized her “commitment to freedom of expression” with its Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
The article, first published in August 2013, was translated from the Amharic original exclusively for the IWMF.
Article reproduced with kind permission of the IWMF.
Many questions cross my mind when I look at the “‘Anti-Terrorism Decree” and its application. Why does this decree have paragraphs that violate human rights? Why does it prosecute innocent citizens who have no ties to terrorism or terrorist organizations? I ask myself. In order to answer these questions one needs to look at the reasons behind the creation of such a decree, and so I did.
Why was the anti-terrorism decree written? One needn’t look too far to realize that the ruling party, EPRDF, didn’t create these anti-terrorism laws because it faced a real threat. You only need to look at the individuals who are either facing such charges, or have already been found guilty under this decree. Members of the opposition party who have denounced human rights violations and have peacefully called for the replacement of the current regime by a more democratic one, freethinkers who dared ask stern questions to officials at locally organized discussion forums, leaders of the Muslim community who refused to dilute and redraft their religious beliefs to appease the government’s stance on religion, and ourselves, members of the free press who performed their duty as voices of the people have been the main victims of this anti-terrorist decree.
This proves that the real purpose of this decree is to enable the current regime to comfortably rule without any criticism, opposition, or competition. These actions are not creations of the EPRDF, instead they are old tried and true methods copied from other brutal regimes. It is very well known that colonial regimes of the past found it convenient to label the freedom fighters that refused to kneel as “terrorists.” And today, the EPRDF travels this same colonial path by stuffing its prisons with its own citizens and punishing those of us who have refused to give up our human and citizenship dignity.
What is to be done? Stopping the gross human rights violations that the EPRDF is committing under the guise of the anti-terrorism decree requires a lot of work. The current anti-terrorism decree will have to be replaced by a more appropriate one. Even with such changes, as long as the judicial system leans in favor of the EPRDF such arrests will continue. For, those of us who are currently imprisoned would have been found “not guilty” had we been judged fairly, even under the current anti-terrorism decree. As such, demonstrations and movements aimed at this decree, and more importantly at the ruling EPRDF who seeks to illegally use it, shall be strengthened and continued.
The reason I strongly believe that these protests should primarily be aimed at the ruling party is because it is the source of the wrongful application of this law and other innumerable Ethiopian problems. We have observed with disgust the length this regime will travel to protect its grip on power, and its rule. In other words, the actions of the EPRDF are based on motives that are tied to ethnicity, power hunger, and unjust prosperity among others. In Arthur Gordon’s words “If one’s motives are wrong, nothing can be right.” Because of this, nothing good can be expected from the EPRDF. Therefore our only option for change remains a modern and peaceful struggle wherein we should be prepared to provide the needed sacrifices. As we embark on this journey to transform the system, there are many related issues that we should consider. We should deeply consider all the challenges set forth by the ruling party whether they are the ethnic, religious, ideological, or the interest based divisive elements it nourishes. We shall learn how to unite our many fronts of struggle into one.
Looking forward, it is the role of any responsible citizen, and especially that of the opposition parties and related groups, to think of and discuss the nature of the system that shall proceed the current one. For as long as we accomplish these required duties, and stay firm in our convictions, a Bright Day will not be too far.