Let us always remain honest for ourselves and stand firm in our beliefs, no matter how much that costs us under the circumstances. An honest and prudent leadership is an essential prerequisite for a credible and legitimate government, writes Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh.
Over the years, senior government officials, including Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn himself were pretty unanimous in vehemently denying the existence of political prisoners in the country. Against this precarious position long-taken by the authorities, however, it is now unprecedented to suddenly hear that ‘some political leaders’ and ‘other individuals’, both convict and under an ongoing trial for having been criminally prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General, are likely to be released by pardon according to the televised statement jointly provided on December 3 2018 on the part of the leaders of the regional political parties formally constituting the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition.
This apparently courageous move is said to have been taken, allegedly to facilitate the long-awaited national reconciliation and to widen the political space in the country so that opposition groups would freely and effectively participate in the running for, occupation and management of public offices. Unfortunately, the term used by the Prime Minister while delivering the official statement along with his colleagues to refer to the potential beneficiaries of this remarkable decision is so imprecise that would provoke more questions than answers.
What does the phrase ‘political leaders’ or ‘politicians’ connote in the first place?
Whom does the Prime Minister wish to address when he also speaks of ‘some other individuals’ down the line?
In a nation, which purportedly claims to be a constitutional democracy, those citizens who are forcibly silenced and arbitrarily thrown to jail for simply and critically asserting their dissenting views and opinions in any form against the regime in power are said to be victims of politically motivated charges and prosecutions under international human rights’ law. The common and technical designation of this category of victims is ‘prisoners of conscience’, so to speak.
Ethiopia is a Federal Democratic Republic as officially proclaimed under its establishing constitution as of 1995. The country is also a principal signatory and ratifier of a dozen of regional and international human rights’ treaties which oblige its authorities to uphold the cardinal values of freedom of expression of opinion and political pluralism. Hence, it cannot, in any way, be an exception to the rule of domestic reaction and international criticism if it has been practicing unlawful and oppressive methods in an effort to curb political opposition and peaceful expression of public resentments in the streets.
In this respect, what the Prime Minister refers to as ‘some politicians and other individuals’ in his rather vague and equivocal statement should broadly be construed as to also include all detainees due to the peaceful and organized expression of their political convictions or legitimate grievances of the like nature brutally kept in all the country’s criminal investigation police and prison cells as well as any other detention centers known to the government, be it by a court verdict, prosecutorial order or any other administrative decision.
Thanks to the Prime Minister, he further declared that the notorious Central Criminal Investigation Department widely known as ‘Meakelawi’ in Addis Ababa would be dismantled and even turn into a monumental site due to its negative historical image on the country as a place wherein horrendous torture had been routinely perpetrated and hundreds of innocent citizens were ruthlessly incarcerated during the Derg era. This is, indeed, a breakthrough by all standards.
What one strongly disagrees with His Excellency, though, is perhaps the fact that he was desperately trying to associate Meakelawi with the previous military regime alone, almost 27 solid years after the latter’s devastating downfall for good. Reluctantly speaking out of nothing other than natural openness, I see no reason why this obnoxious and gruesome facility in the heart of the African Capital, Addis Ababa, had been allowed to stay actively operational to this date if it were not to be utilized to equally serve, more or less, similar purposes even there-after.
To my modest piece of recommendation, let us always remain honest for ourselves and stand firm in our beliefs, no matter how much that costs us under the circumstances. An honest and prudent leadership is an essential prerequisite for a credible and legitimate government. Lack of common sense and poor judgment on the part of our senior leadership should not, often times, persuade ordinary citizens and communities to unquestionably believe and submissively accept what is otherwise incomprehensible for rational human beings at all.
In any event, getting Meakelawi closed for whatever justifications provided, does, no doubt, symbolize a positive trajectory in the whole array of our multiple reforms. It is an action that must be commended and applauded at least from a psychological standpoint. Nevertheless, what eventually matters most is putting an end to the abominable practice of torture and all other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment sanctioned by the 1984 UN Convention against Torture known as ‘CAT’ for short, of which Ethiopia is a state party. In fact, Art. 18 Sub-Art. (1) of our constitution reformulates the prohibitions laid down in that UN Convention.
Ed.’s Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter or the institution he is affiliated with. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.