By Teklemichael Sahlemariam
I do not doubt Ethiopian Review’s account of what happened to Artiste Debebe Eshetu and there is enormous evidence to suggest that TPLF agents abused him into confessing things he did not do. However, I do not agree with Elias Kifle’s suggestion of waiting for the victims to tell their story in their own time. I think we should urge and push the victims to speak about the abuse they went through, because that is the only guarantee for the other political prisoners.
If Birtukan told us and the world knew about what happened to her in jail, the TPLF would have though twice before trying to apply similar methods on Debebe. It is the silence of the victims that is encouraging and emboldening Woyannes to do it again and again. I do not see how Elias’s claim that victims of abuse, sodomy or any form of sexual assault “are too ashamed to tell even those closest to them,” because it is not something they did voluntarily. In fact, the shame and humiliation is on the perpetrators. Unless the victims speak out, how can we convince the world about our case? I wish Elias Kifle had encouraged the victims to speak about their horrific experience and showed them how speaking about it to the world would free them and help to advance the struggle.
The TPLF is doing what even Apartheid South Africa did not do to the ANC leaders or other political detainees. First, they make arrests alleging some terrorist plot, and then they torture the detainees to produce involuntary confessions and statements as evidence. That has been the TPLF regime’s modus operandi over two decades. They arrested the opposition leaders and journalists after the 2005 election and coerced them into signing a confession and an apology statement for crimes they did not comit. They arrested Birtukan Mideksa in December 2008 for almost two years and forced her (I do not think Birtukan would said what she said voluntarily) to admit on television that she regretted her denial of asking for pardon. And they did similar things to Debebe last week.
In Bereket Simon’s “Akeldama” documentary, something that struck me the most was that although when they detained the Andualem and others a few months ago they claimed to have adequate evidence, there is nothing in the video that shows the basis for their terrorism charge. Every alleged “evidence” they showed on the video is something they found after the arrest. We all know that not only does TPLF lie, but they also fabricate lies and force their victims to lie. The best prevention we have is telling the stories of brutality they perpetrated against the victims, such as Birtukan Mideksa, Debebe Eshetu and others, as they happen. If those who passed through these humiliating practices speak publicly about their experience, it will tilt the balance to our side.
Even a year after Birtukan was released, we do not know anything about what happened to her inside the jail that made her admit the crime she did not commit, other than the solitary confinement. I am not underestimating the solitary confinement. I also do not believe that Birtukan made a confession of the crime she did not commit in front of a camera only because of a solitary confinement. Because based on the story we knew, Birtukan allegedly made the confession long time after she came out of solitary confinement. Since we have not heard anything from her, other than some of the fragments of minor evils she told us about on a couple of occasions, we can only guess or speculate what happened to her. If we succeed in convincing Birtukan to tell her story to the world, then that will be one more piece of evidence of the cruelties this TPLF/EPRDF commits, and it will put the TPLF on the defensive. That will also help our heroes who are currently in jail.
Elias also said in his remark that he would do the same if he is in Debebe’s position. I would do the same if I were Birtukan or Debebe, too. However, I do not agree with Elias’s remark in our private email exchanged that “some people are criticizing me for even writing about Debebe Eshetu’s situation. Right now I want to focus on Woyanne, so I am trying to minimize controversial issues such as this.”
I have two answers for that. First, these days, I do not understand why politician and activists fear to confront controversial issues head-on. For example, TPLF is says working with Eritrea as a great sin, because we are not promoting the idea openly. The TPLF does whatever it wants clandestinely and it does not have a moral, political and legal integrity to set the standard of patriotism for us. Secondly, unless we are brave enough to promote controversial ideas openly, I do not think we will win support to our side when we engage in controversial projects. The Eritrean issue I mentioned earlier is a good example. Furthermore, there will always be some controversial ideas however hard we try to avoid them. If the thing you wrote about Debebe’s family being threatened with sodomy with a bottle or any form of sexual assault is controversial, it is not your problem; it is the problem of those who find it controversial. It is the problem of the TPLF that abused the prisoners and threatened to harm their families.
I know as usual some people will try to distort what I wanted to say. I am not by any means judging any one. In fact, as Birtukan herself told me to my face a few months ago, I may not have the moral capacity to judge these people or anybody for that matter. But, I believe that a politician’s position or action is open to criticism or judgement and I am only making political assessment or judgement. Politicians also consent to be judged when they enter to politics, as Dr Berhanu Nega agreed with me a few months ago.
Unless the people who experienced TPLF’s brutality tell us what exactly happened to them, Reyot, Eskindir, Andualem, Beqele, Woubshet, Olbana and other political detainees are next in line for brutalization and confessions of the crime they did not commit.
I appeal to them to speak out.
(You can reach the writer at [email protected])