enabling tomorrow's human rights leaders, today
The following post is written by William Luk. William is a rising Senior from Tufts University majoring in International Relations. He is a 2012 Oslo Scholar and is interning with Abebe Gellaw this summer.
Mr. Abebe Gellaw is a terrorist; at least, according to the totalitarian regime of Ethiopia, ruled by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. According to others, however, he is an inspiration.
At the 2012 Food Security G8 Summit in Washington D.C. on May 18, 2012, Abebe Gellaw stood up in the audience while Dictator Meles was giving a speech about African agricultural transformation, and demanded freedom.
“Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Meles Zenawi is a dictator! Free Eskinder Nega! Free Political Prisoners! You are a dictator. You are committing crimes against humanity. Food is nothing without freedom! Meles has committed crimes against humanity! We Need Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” – Abebe Gellaw
Shocked, Zenawi became completely disoriented and tongue-tied. “In the land of free speech, he was rendered speechless,” one reporter wrote. Indeed, it almost seemed that for a second, the dictator, who has silenced many during his reign, tasted his own bitter medicine. Abebe lived up to his status as a “terrorist”, as his courageous act did indeed terrorize the dictator. Being called a terrorist by the Meles Regime only means that Abebe is doing a good job.
In a country that actively represses the freedom of speech and the freedom of media, exemplified by the fact that there is only one national television station, one national daily, one internet service provider, one national radio and one telecommunication provider for its 80 million citizens, Ethiopian journalists have always lived in a constant state of fear. In fact, Ethiopia is the leading source of exiled journalists in the world.
“You cannot be a journalist in Ethiopia,” Abebe lamented, “unless you praise the Government.”
But how could one genuinely praise the Government? The Meles Regime killed over 200 people for protesting against a rigged election in which Meles stopped the counts in most parts of the country, declared himself the winner and threw 40,000 protestors in jail. He enacted an Act that categorizes terrorism so broadly that virtually any opposition to the Regime is made illegal.
But people are not that easily silenced.
Founded in 2005 by a band of exiled journalists around the world such as Mr. Gellaw himself, the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) challenges the Government by telling the truth– news otherwise censored in local Ethiopian media. However, as ESAT gains popularity, the Meles Regime began jamming its radio signals, which entails overriding the original signals with noise so as to make the original signal inaudible. While countermeasures are available, there are no guarantees that they could work and implementation is difficult and often costly. The road ahead may be treacherous, but ESAT is ready to brave through the obstacles to achieve its goal—delivering the truth to the people of Ethiopia.
It is against this backdrop of worsening human rights that Abebe confronted the very Dictator that exiled him. Now, exciting things are happening for Abebe. At the 2012 Oslo Freedom Forum in May, Abebe, as a speaker at the Forum organized by the Human Rights Foundation, announced that another speaker at the Forum, Mr. Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice of Canada who played an integral part in the freeing of Nelson Mandela, has agreed to take on his case and fight for justice. Because of Mr. Cotler’s help, Abebe’s cry for freedom will be even louder and heard by even more people.