By Jonas Clinton
As the most educated Ethiopian immigrants migrate to North America looking for economical opportunities, it has been suggested, and most will end up being stalwart of customer service jobs such as driving taxis and ultimately shutter an Ethiopian dream of being useful to their home countries. In Ethiopia, like in North America, where the most inspiring, patriotic and educated citizens are located is not in the important institutions of the country being part of the affairs of the country, but like in North America, in the wrong places, inside the brutal and deadly Kaliti prison.
Early this month, a milestone was reached in Kaliti prison, one of Africa’s worst prisons, as one of its celebrated political prisoners, Reeymot Alemu, marked her 1000th day of being a political prisoner. The award winning journalist of the prestigious UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Prize and the Hellman/Hammett Press Freedom Prize, Reeymot is fast becoming the face of Ethiopia and how wrong the country’s progress and priority has been.
The now 35 year old Alemu, was an English teacher and an occasional journalist when she was noticed by the Ethiopian government. She was one of Ethiopia’s eloquent voices in the then rare independent print media –Feteh – and wrote on government shortcomings and policies. In a country that still views constructive criticism as treason; the paper she wrote for was closed down by government officials and most of its journalists fled the country.
Alemu stayed behind and in a bold and daring move, started her own monthly publication – Change – and focused on long investigative reporting.
As she became a noted voice, the Ethiopian government closed her new publication and charged the young journalist with treason under Ethiopia’s 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. The Anti-Terror Proclamation was, according to Amnesty International, is intended to “restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and the right to fair trial with serious implications”.
She was tried and convicted in secret with no substantive evidence and was sent to prison for 14 years and a monetary fine of $1500 – a hefty fine in Ethiopia. The government wanted to use her as an example to surpass other journalists, much like the respected Eskender Nega, and have them endorse government propaganda’s instead.
Since her arrest, She has been denied due medical care, been confined to darkness and been denied basic necessities of life in anticipation of her sharing information on her former journalist colleagues. She has refused as her suffering has continued.
Ethiopia has continued to arrest and imprison journalists while embracing its reputation of being an oppressor of press freedom and dissent in Ethiopia. Alemu once reflected how she believes that she “must contribute something to bring a better future (to Ethiopia).”Since there are a lot of injustices and oppressions in Ethiopia, I must reveal and oppose them in my articles,” and that her “principles” is “to stand for the truth, whether it is risky or not.”
As Ethiopia refuses to acknowledge the brutal treatment of its better citizens such as Nega and Alemu and many other political prisoners – what is fast becoming is the reality that Ethiopia is still a broken system that rewards bad while punishes good as it transitions to a better country in name only.