Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu on hunger strike
|Ethiopian journalist Reeyot Alemu on hunger strike
September 13, 2013
ADDIS ABABA – Reeyot Alemu, Ethiopia’s award-winning journalist serving time in Kaliti Prison, has been on a hunger strike since Wednesday, a sister of the political prisoner has confirmed.
Writing on her Facebook wall, Eskedar Alemu said her sister was subjected to psychological terror from the head of the female inmates’s section as well as an ex-army colonel, Haymanot Tesfaye, who was thrown into jail on corruption charges. The army colonel was a high-profile TPLF rebel married to Gebrewahed Woldegiorgis, a few months ago deputy head of the corruption-prone Customs and Revenue Authority and TPLF but now behind bars on again corruption charges.The former army colonel, Haymanot, shares a cell with Reeyot, a winner of the 2013 UNESCO-Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
Though an “inmate,” the ex-colonel has got a new job in hand, and that is to turn the prison life of Reeyot into one of a hell. The journalist’s appeal for a solution to her ordeal has fallen on deaf ears.
The regime has a history of deploying “tormentors” into the cells of “political prisoners and prisoners of conscience” like Reeyot, and the mission of the tormentors is to deprive their victims of any peace of mind to the point of giving up on life.
For instance, an inmate who was described as “insane” was deployed into a cell where Andualem Arage, a prominent oppositin figure sentenced to life, was staying. The “insane” not only tormented Andualem psychologically but also kicked him in the head repeatedly that it was other daring inmates who saved his life.
The “tormentors” are deployed to “break the will” of prisoners like Reeyot, who have rejected offers to falsely testify against other journalists in exchange for freedom.
The 32-year-old courageous Reeyot is best described, courtesy of debirhan blog, by the following lines excerpted from the IWMF Website:
Women of Ethiopia, Unite!
It is dangerous to be an educated and a vocal woman in Ethiopia today. The ruling minority in Ethiopia has succeeded to sidetrack lazy foreign reporters from The Economist, The Financial Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, etc, by pointing out that 27 percent of seats in parliament are occupied by women and that the Prime Minister’s wife chairs the Social Affairs Standing Committee and runs her husband’s party business conglomerate and is also a champion of women’s rights! As additional evidence, these reporters have been assured of achievements recorded in comparison to the era of the Derg and that, similar to the Derg era, there is in the Prime Minister’s Office a separate department for Women’s Affairs. In reality, however, for every ounce of information provided there is always a ton hid from public scrutiny. And the foreign reporter will not get to the real story until he or she is willing to make every effort to fact-check who the women parliamentarians are, what their level of education is, what their assignments are in parliament, how effective they have been in passing legislation and how the ‘election’ processes by which they gained those seats were conducted and above all, how a no-opposition parliament could legitimately represent the nation or make the benefits of democracy available to everyone.
It is costly to be a woman leader in Ethiopia, unless you are the Prime Minister’s wife. For every woman leader struck down tens of thousands women, men and children will be seriously affected. Strike out a woman leader you instantly remove the glue, if you will, of a household, a community. Just look at the four women leaders above and observe how few are women leaders. Ms. Birtukan and Ms. Mahdere were High Court Judges and leaders of two civic organizations and as such know one or two things about the letter of the law and its interpretation. Prime MinisterMeles and his wife have always dreaded to see the Constitution in the hands of educated and independent-minded women. The fears were not unfounded. Judge Birtukan served two jail terms [in solitary confinement for nearly four years] for organizing an opposition party in a man’s world and for refusing to just “take care of her ageing mother and her 6-year daughter Halle” and is now in the US. Judge Mahdere was lucky to escape the clutches of the husband and wife secret service and currently resides somewhere in North America.
And then the surreal story of Journalist Serkalem Fasil. She and her husband Eskinder Nega run a private press from which they hoped to inform and allow public participation in the affairs their country. We see no crime there. But it was an uphill battle. Prime Minister Meles and his wife were not pleased with the attention the papers of the husband and wife journalists were getting and so the logical thing was to throw both in jail and look the other way as Ms. Serkalem went through the horrors of giving birth to a son [Nafkot: Yearning] alone in a squalid prison environment without adequate medical attention.
Late last month it was reported Feteh paper columnist Reeyot Alemu [along with the deputy editor of AwrambaTimes, Mr. Woubshet Taye] was sent to the dungeons on charges of “terrorism”. One of the columns she wrote was essentially sourced from a book in official Amharic [trans. “The Phoenix Shall Rise”] by the wife of one of the leaders of Prime Minister Meles’s party. The book stated that prior to assuming power and afterwards the Prime Minister’s party gave only lip service to women’s issues and, in fact, threatened and marginalized any who challenged the all-male and chauvinistic leadership. Another issue is the fact that many of Mr. Meles’s comrades simply dropped their wives from days of insurgency and re-married city women when they took power. And yet another fact was a question women raised during the insurgency as to why they were forced to take contraceptives and the men were not required to use condoms. One last statement has to do with the method employed to collect money from the public for a dam project. The write-up is, obviously, a no-no in the eyes of Prime Minister and his wife even though there is nothing new to it. We don’t understand how these statements could be interpreted as acts of terrorism! Apparently, Ms. Reeyot is not one to “shut up and be beautiful” and thus ended up in the clutches of the beast.
The sad thing is that the US and UK governments are doing little to intervene in public. They have chosen a “quiet” diplomacy. That is another term for cuddling a tyrant or for a gentle slap on the hand at the same time handing cash bonus for running errands. Mr. Meles has enough of Macchiaveli’s blood running through his veins to have the audacity to complain to the VOA to silence opposition voices. We wish such “quiet” diplomacy was consistently followed and wonder why Secretary Clinton was quick to denounce Turkey for arresting journalists and restricting access to the Internet but was silent when it came to Ethiopia. Mr. Meles has publicly denounced VOA and admitted to using Chinese technology to jam it, as well as refused to expand access to Facebook or the Internet. This is simply unconscionable and does not compute with the talk of Obama Administration to stand with democratic forces against despots.
In an earlier post, we suggested women and daughters are in a better position to bring down the ruling minority. We were in earnest when we forwarded the idea. All mothers and daughters have to do in our opinion is to shame the ruling minority by getting out on the streets with pots and pans in hand and demand the prime minister and his wife to step down – and remain in the streets until their demand is satisfied! Men and sons could watch from the side, if they wish. We also said MEDREK gerontocracy has to make way for the young and innovative generation. Can’t you see even Mr. Meles, in his devious way, has seen the need for a change of guard two years ago?!
And now imagine someday having these women serving their nation as Prime Minister, Minister of Justice, Minister of Information and Publisher/Editor of a private press. This is and should be the abiding yearning [nafkot] of every freedom-loving Ethiopian.
We at ETHIOPIAN RECYCLER demand the immediate release of Ms. Reeyot, Mr. Woubshet and all prisoners of conscience! Women of Ethiopia, unite!
Ethiomedia.com – An African-American news and views website.