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Young Ethiopian Activist Turns to Self-Immolation
Death becomes preferable to a life without justice and liberty under PM Meles.
Ethiopian American Council
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Regime Isolates Town, Cuts Phone Lines
“Death is preferable than a life without justice and liberty… .” Those were the words on the lips of young Yenesew Gebre as he set himself ablaze at a public meeting that was being held in Waka Town in Ethiopia in hopes of settling some severe differences between the indigenous people of the region and Ethiopia’s oppressive regime. Yenesaw was protesting the ongoing brutal campaign against dissent led by the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF.).
As flames engulfed his body, Mr. Gebre issued an impassioned plea for his compatriots to fear nothing and to rise up to wrench their freedom and rights from the hands of local and national tyrants. The iconic act took place at a protest rally in the Dawro Community area of the country. The self-immolation occurred on Nov. 11. The news is just now being heard because the regime has sealed off Waka Town and cut phone lines to the area in an attempt to prevent news of the disturbing act of martyrdom from spreading across Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Diaspora Group Reacts
The chairperson of the Ethiopian American Council (EAC), an Ethiopian Diaspora group headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA, USA, released a statement regarding the incident. “ Yenesew Gebre set himself ablaze to send a powerful message to millions of young Ethiopians to rise above their fear and challenge the dictatorial Meles regime. There is no doubt that his message will reverberate throughout Ethiopia and compel the masses to fight for political freedom. The regime cannot sustain the current level of political suppression for long. In fact, we are seeing evidence that it is teetering on the brink of collapse. The West, particularly the United States, would be well-served to end their unjust support to the collapsing Meles regime.”
Meeting Lead to Burning and a Lonely Death
Officials of the regime had gathered in the region to address some local problems that had already resulted in arrests, including many elders and young people. According to a report from the Voice of America (VOA), Yenesaw was asking government officials to release the detainees. At one point officials offered him money if he would stop his advocacy. He refused.
The regime has been accused of torture and repression, seizing heritage lands from native peoples for lease to foreign agri-businesses, and demanding political fealty before food and development aid is released to those who need it. Which issue was being addressed is unclear, but at the meeting Yenesaw Geber denounced Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s regime. When security agents tried to squelch him, he calmly walked out of the meeting hall, doused himself with benzene, and set himself alight in front of the other protesters gathered in the compound. As he burned, he exhorted his fellow protesters to throw off the shackles of the corrupt regime and the ruling party.
The 29-year old Yenesew Gebre was hospitalized on Friday, Nov. 11, and died at Tercha Hospital on Monday, Nov. 14, from the severe burns he suffered, family sources told an Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) news desk. The VOA says that the hospital was under heavy government security and that family members were not allowed to see him before he died. His funeral was declared off limits; it is not clear if his family was allowed at the burial.
Admired Activist and Star Teacher May Be Another Bouazizi
According to ESAT sources, Yenesew was very angry at the injustice the local people were being subjected to at the hands of ruling party officials. Earlier, Yenesew had been fired from his teaching position due to his political views and unswerving stand against human rights violations, tyranny and oppression.
Yenesaw was widely respected and a star teacher at his school. Well-read, and a highly conscientious activist, Yenesew was known for raising serious issues and challenging authorities. Before he chose to follow in the footsteps of Bouazizi, he was said to be one of the organizers of the peaceful protests that rocked Waka Town for several days. Bouazizi is the young man who resorted to self-immolation that eventually led to the downfall of the repressive Tunisian regime.
EAC Denounces Western Complicity in Tyranny
The Ethiopian American Council hopes that the immolation will send a signal to western governments, primarily the U.S. and the E.E.C. (both assist the Meles government with aid in food, cash and materiel) that they are supporting a regime that has no real regard for the Ethiopian people. These western governments tend to hold their noses or look the other way regarding human rights issues when dealing with the regime of Meles and the TPLF.
The repressive regime does provide one of the more stable countries in the region. The western powers value this even though that stability comes about by boot-on-the-neck repression of the people. Local activists are rounded up and confined. Ethiopian and international journalists are jailed and are facing charges. Political opponents are often tortured when captured. The regime only acknowledges “rounding up terrorists.”
When western aid arrives in the country, only those who pledge allegiance to Meles and the TPLF are eligible to receive it. Consequently, hundreds of thousands go without, and malnourishment and death are pandemic. The U.S. has leased land for drone bases in Ethiopia to help it keep a watchful eye on the Persian Gulf in light of its upcoming withdrawal from Iraq.
Friend Has Hopes for Yenesaw’s Martyrdom
When he made the desperate act, the incident threw the Waka Town meeting into total disarray and the community members reportedly started wailing and venting their anger at the local officials and the security forces that were trying to control the situation. According to ESAT sources, a friend of the young martyr called upon the people to immortalize Yenesaw just as the Tunisians did to recognize the sacrifice of Buoazizi. The friend went on to say that Yenesaw’s act shows that it is time for the Ethiopian people to reclaim their freedom.
That sentiment reverberated in a statement from a member of EAC, “This is a profoundly powerful protest in opposition to the rule of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and it is an echo of what happened in Tunisia. Hopefully, millions will be inspired to fight the ethno-centric, minority government and its leader, Meles Zenawi.”
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