September 2, 2014
Another 28 days appointment until police does further investigation. Another 28 days awarded by the judge. Another 28 days. This has become the culture of Ethiopian justice detaining critics and suspected opponents under the guise of “terror” and leaving them in prison denying them visitation, solicitors, bail or even a chance to say a word while in court. Today opposition officials Habtamu Ayale, Yeshewas Assfea, Daniel Shibeshi and few other unnamed suspects that appeared in the First Criminal Bench of Arada Court today after 56 days of imprisonment without being charged were given another appointment for October 2, 2014. They have not still been charged.
In a ‘justice’ system where the detainer, investigator and the judge is the security and the Intel force; going to court proceedings only served as a moment of meeting loved ones. Often cases including the recent proceedings of the Zone 9 Bloggers, journalists Eskinder Nega and Reeyot Alemu, members and leaders of opposition parties detained some 56 days ago; the court/the judge gives an order for the prisoners to be visited by their relatives, friends and solicitors but the prison administrators and investigators do not apply the decisions. Who is above who now?
Since April 2014 Ethiopian securities have detained over a dozen of young and vocal bloggers, journalists, activists and opposition party leaders. This unprecedented also followed a systematic expulsion/elimination of critical publishers and journalists by charging the publishers of five critical publications. The journalists of these five publications have fled the Ethiopia within the last two weeks fearing for their lives. The Ethiopian security has also conducted a extraordinary transcontinental abduction of an Ethiopian-British leader of the opposition Ginbot 7 Movemnet, Andargachew Tsige from Yemen. Prior to all these regime has completed its homework of challenge/critic elimination by arresting and charging, convicting and sentencing critical opposition leaders, journalists, religious leaders and worshipers including those based in the Diaspora. The absence and silencing of these dissidents from the Ethiopian political and mediasphere is widely visible.
Why was such a major action necessary? Many in the media and political fields are saying that the government is conducting the mass arrest of these critical voices to win the election free from all threats. It has learned from the previous elections that the young and critical ones are always likely to cause it a major hindrance. They say it is with this plan in mind that it is arresting and quelling all critical voices inside and outside the country.
De Birhan has also learnt that some of the opposition leaders have told visitors that came to visit them in Makelawi Prison recently “not to come again and hope to see them freed as they won’t be released before the May 2015 general parliamentary election”. This makes it clear that the prisoners have been directly or indirectly informed by the detectives and interrogators they won’t be freed before the election.
Many in the country believe that elections in Ethiopia have become facades since the 2005 election when there was a little room and beacon of ‘free and fair election’. However, in such a political sphere where there is no viable opposition force, media outlet and civil society organisation since all have been targeted by Anti Terrorism Laws and CSO proclamations respectively, the ruling Front controls the media and political sphere and holds all but one seat in parliament, expecting that it would radically lose election is unsound. Whether it arrests or releases these critics, activists and journalists, the ruling Front will definitely win the election obviously not by the will of the people but because it cannot allow defeat anyhow and at any rate.
Therefore, it at least makes sense for the government to release all political opponents and writers under its custody, give them a chance to speak and win the election like it wants and wishes to. If it hits its 29th year in power winning next year’s election, it will lose nothing but at least a paragraph that would read in history books “in the 2015th general election there were vocal opponents and writers such as Habtamu Ayalew, Andualem Arage, Eskinder Nega, Zone 9 Bloggers and the like but EPRDF won again for the 6th time in row” rather than one that reads “EPRDF as usual won the election in 2015 in the absence of ANY vocal political opposition leader or journalists”. The moral of the piece is that whether EPRDF arrests or releases vocal opposition activists and journalists until or after the 2015th general election, it is set to win it. It is less fathomable that the Ethiopian ruling Front will give power through election; as its late leader had reportedly said it, the Front is not willing to give up the power it assumed through the barrel of a gun and scarification in elections.