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Tense confrontation between Siye Abraha and Kality officials

By Peter Heinlein | VOA

Ethiopia’s best-known political prisoner, opposition leader Birtukan Mideksa, is said to be in poor physical and mental health in a jail outside Addis Ababa where she is serving a life sentence. But as Prison authorities have denied visitation requests from friends and colleagues seeking to check on her condition.

A tense confrontation developed outside Kaliti prison Saturday between the facility’s director Abebe Zemichael and a man who was both his former commander and his former prisoner.

Several top officials of Ethiopia’s Unity for Democracy and Justice Party had gone to the prison demanding to see their jailed leader Birtukan Mideksa. Among them, Seye Abraha, a well-known political and military figure who is also a former Kaliti inmate.

Siye says he and prison director Abebe argued over visitation rules.

“The chief of the prison showed up and said it is only blood relatives who are allowed to visit her, we challenged him, as we are ex-prisoners we know family and friends visit relatives in prison,” said Siye.

Siye and the prison chief have a long history. Twenty years ago, Siye was military commander of the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Abebe was a TPLF guerrilla fighter. After the TPLF seized power in 1991, Siye became Ethiopia’s defense minister in the government led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

But the TPLF split in a bitter 2001 dispute. Siye was on the losing side. After being ousted, he was charged with corruption and imprisoned for six years.

He is now free and campaigning for a seat in parliament.

Siye says UDJ officials went to Kaliti to check reports Birtukan’s physical and mental health have deteriorated during her 15 months behind bars.

“Since the government has blocked any information about Birtukan we do not know what precipitated this problem about her health, so we are asking the government to give her access to an independent medical inquiry,” he added.

Birtukan was among dozens of opposition leaders sentenced to life in prison for their part in violent protests against what they said was vote-rigging by the ruling party in the 2005 parliamentary election. All were subsequently pardoned. But Birtukan was returned to jail and ordered to serve out her term after she refused to apologize for publicly stating she had not asked for the pardon.

Amnesty International describes her as a prisoner of conscience, the U.N. Human Rights Council lists her as a victim of arbitrary detention.

The U.S. State Department calls her a political prisoner, and describes as ‘credible’ reports her mental health is deteriorating.

The 35-year-old single mother and former judge was held in solitary confinement for five months after being re-arrested. Since then, her mother and five-year-old daughter have been the only ones allowed to see her.

In an interview Friday, Almaz Gebregziabher, 74, said her daughter seems mentally sound, though they are not able to talk freely during their twice weekly visits. Speaking through an interpreter, she said Birtukan’s physical health is the greater worry.

“Saturday Birtukan complained that she was sick, and on Sunday she said ‘would you please deliver this message to authorities’, that she was severely sick,” she said. “As soon as Birtukan said she was sick, she was almost in tears, and immediately the female guard that was listening to their conversation interfered and told her to leave the premises.”

Officials flatly deny Birtukan is either physically or mentally ill. At a recent news conference, Prime Minister Meles suggested reports about Birtukan’s condition are politically motivated.

“She may have added a few kilos. That may be for lack of exercise,” said Prime Minister Meles. “Other than that, I understand she is in perfect health. Where are they getting it, these reports? The usual suspects.”

He rejected a reporter’s suggestion that outside doctors, diplomats or journalists be allowed to see Birtukan to verify her condition.

“Birtukan is an ordinary prisoner of law. She will be treated like an ordinary prisoner of law. And we will keep her in prison like every other prisoner. No more rights, no less rights,” added Prime Minister Meles.

Birtukan supporter Siye Abraha counters that if Birtukan is treated like any other prisoner, she should be allowed to see friends and relatives.

Government spokesman Shimelis Kemal this week expressed surprise the issue of Birtukan’s health is being raised. He said if she is sick, she can go to the prison infirmary. If her problems are more serious, she would be referred to a hospital, like every other prisoner.

Shimelis said the timing of the issue suggests it might have less to do with Birtukan’s health and more to do with the next election, which is less than two months away.

12 thoughts on “Tense confrontation between Siye Abraha and Kality officials

  1. The Front Burner as we approach the 2002 election: Personal dimension

    We have many political ways, designs and arguments to heal the bleeding heart of the Ethiopian society. Many reactions wether rationally or irrationally to the challenge of the Ruling Party. What should the opposition parties do when approaching the election?

    The political arguements are of import to their campaign. I had the chance to see some of the video clips which to some extent less heated to initiate voters. I put the following opinions as a supplement to your designed strategy.

    1. whenever you come on the platform of the dialogue censoriosly comment the failing policy and show your ground why

    the alternative is important. Dont forget you all are speaking infront of many experts in the country as you move to

    control power

    2. Be prepared for whitlestopping speach: making brief statements than dragging voters. Take a belief that you need to have

    COATTAILS. Impuissance makes voters to be less active. Make use of inflencial candidates or delegates to many public speaches

    3. Listen to Professor Mesfin Woldemariam: He is one and matchless in a millions in Ethiopia wether you believe or not. Never trust

    alone what your mind has constructed. As perspective matters than physical emotion. Not for his sake we respect his idea but to

    save Ethiopia truly.

    4. Never repeat words, avoid monotonic songs

    5. Never condemn good policies you believe are in place by the ruling party.

    6. Focus only on the policy alternative. Otheriwse candidates from the ruling party are with capacity might be better. The matter is

    mentality how set up. Respect the people.

    7. Make your followers happy. Get that feedback from senoirs around you. I say Professor Mesfin. Never listen to your soul.

    Great wish to the promising land of Ethiopia and its inhabitants


  2. Birtukan is a political prisoner, and all the donor community to the Ethiopian dictator should press on him to release this lady. She was once a suprem court judge, she knows the the law very well, and she did not cross the line as the Prime Minister suggested. She decided to run for politics after being pressured to make flawed judgment, and she realized how wrong she has been by working for a dictator daily convicting people who have done no wrong. On the other hand the people jailing them were doing every wrong. That is why she decided to run for politics to make quick corrections to the system.

    The reason she was jailed in the first place was because the dictator stole the election and the city revolted, the dictator instructed his military force to shoot and kill, the protesters out on the street demanding their vote be respected were getting killed by snipers from roof tops using live ammunition. They killed over 200 on the moment, and severly wounded over 1200 people later another 450 would die of their wound. The dictator was very upset over the protestors and demanded all the opposition politicians should take the blame, Judge Birukan was one of the politicians forced to accept the responsibility for the death of those kids.

    Since she was part of the ten senior politicians jailed over the protest, she was released two years later through negotiation with the dictator. Independent investigation was requested and ten judges were assigned to over see the investigation, the first time they reached conclusion over the matter, eight of them thought excessive force was used to quash the peaceful protest guaranteed by the “constitution.” The disctator did not like that ruling, then he decides to go for the second, four judges would take side with the dictator while six of them remained unconvinced and reach the same conclusion as the first. The dictator was very upset over the judges who were given the chance to change their mind refused to do so. Three of the judges would runaway from the country while one was fired and two of them quit under pressure.

    Birtukan Mideksa later would confirm to Diaspora she did not believing in signing the responsibility acceptance letter. The Dictator was upset over her challenge to his word, and tells her to stop her political activism after she went back to Ethiopia, she refuses and continues to exercise her constitutional rights. But the Dictator was upset and decided to make example of her, so they put her in jail stripping the “pardon.”

  3. I wonder how people like Abebe Zemichael, a well-known drunkard has become a prison director. He himself used to be in prison regularly because of his daily physical fighting with bar attendants and other costomers while he was drinking the whole night and abusing commercial girls. On the other hand, I really appreciate the way how Siye Abrha is doing in challenging the system and bringing the Birtukan issue infront of all political agaendas in the country.

  4. Hello Ethiopian friends,
    What ever happened with all the Ethiopian movements? Did they go into hibernation like that of the Oromo Liberation. Instead of pressuring the scum of the earth Legese and his gangs with talk about the useless parties is counter productive. It is a know fact that Legese and his EPRDF said that they will win their fake election. Why even bother contending. If you Ethiopians are serious about booting out Legese and his gangs then the military activities should have increased. Responding to the language Legese and his gangs understand would have been more effective. I hate people with too much talk with no action. Can’t you guys take example how the eritrean are galvanizing the diospora, by doing fund raising writing to pertinat officials on the unfair UN/US sanction. There are more Ethiopian out side Ethiopian than any country in Africa yet, they are the most disorgenaized selfish who don’t care for the plight of the people back home. Come on do some thing don’t give chance to Leges and his gangs. Legese is the chosen foster boy of the UK and US. Thinking that you will get any help from these two countries is just a dream. God will help only those who wants to help them selves. Unless you all get orgenized and do something you are doomed to fail.

  5. Is it just me or did I see Bertukan Mideksa on the the Ethiopian TV, which is running in the DC area, being visited by a Pastor Daniel?

    She wore a red shirt and a pair of slacks. My heart almost stopped out of joy of seeing her.

    I hope this is not just for a show. I hope Bertukan’s human rights will be respected by Zenawi in the future.

  6. Seye is demonstrating once again his heroism to save Ethiopia from Meles and Co. People, those who collaborated with TPLF have now returned to the light side must be forgiven and must be supported because they have knowledge of TPLF and they can bring down the regime. Besides, Seye is key for opposition because Tigrayans support him and thus loyalty to TPLF will crumble down. Those who betrayed will come back to Ethiopia’s unity as well.

    The problem is where does Shawel and the likes stand? They must unite with Seye groups to bring down TPLF. So, stop the greed and power and join for Ethiopia or if you don’t want to participate seat still and let people struggle rather than dividing and confusing Ethiopians so that they don’t unite against TPLF

  7. This spectacle outside Kality concentration camp is nothing more than political theater, Siye is a Woyanne in different outfit, he would love to see Birtukan die in jail just like his cohorts.

    He is playing his role in this charade of “democracy and election drama”, which is designed for show to satisfy the financiers of this sham regime. The Ethiopian people should wise up and see this political theater for what it is. If anyone other than the Siye the warlord was outside Kality concentration camp they would shoot him on site.

  8. Elias, is it true that the woyane took over Langano forcefully from the owner? I have heard that anything they take from the people they give to Alamudi. How true are those things?

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