In Ethiopia, a cry for basic freedoms

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (USA Today) — Sipping a cool drink in a restaurant in the bustling market district of Shiro Meda, Hikma Lemma wore an excited look when asked about President Obama’s visit.

Susan Rice: Ethiopia’s election was “a 100% democratic” (then laughing)

It’s about time, he said.

“We are happy because President Obama has finally come and we expect him to address the issue of free expression,” said Lemma, 30, a primary school teacher. ” But he took too long to come.”

On the streets of the capital, Lemma and others had single message for Obama: make our government respect us and our freedoms.

Human rights groups and locals say the government of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has used the pretext of the war against terror to clamp down on its opposition, arresting politicians, activists, journalists and critics on trumped up terrorism offenses while violating basic freedoms such as speech and assembly.

Ethiopia jails the most journalists in Africa after Eritrea, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both expressed concern over speech and press freedoms and the country’s human rights record. And in May, the State Department expressed concern over how the elections that month could result in all seats being won by the ruling party and its partners. The department noted lingering “restrictions on civil society, media, opposition parties, and independent voices and views” in the country.

On the streets and in the restaurants, cafes and shops of Addis Ababa, fear of the government is palpable when speaking to residents.

“Don’t take pictures here,” Lemma said. “We are not ready to be arrested and punished by authorities. We are not politicians, just poor prisoners (of this country) who cannot speak our minds.”

Opposition leaders are also urging President Obama to demand political and speech freedoms when he meets Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on Monday.

Speaking in his office in the capital, Gizachew Shiferaw, former president of the opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice Party, said opposition leaders are hindered in providing a check on the government. They hold back in speaking their minds for fear of detention.

“I am less politically active as a result of the government’s crackdown on the opposition, independent media, and civil society groups,” Shiferaw said. “We urge the U.S. president to take up this matter as a priority.”

Shiferaw said the Ethiopian government has failed to respect the constitution. As a result, opposition parties are not able to, perform functions such as calling town hall meetings where the public can discuss issues openly and critically, and people can express themselves freely.

“We need the government to respect the constitution,” he added. “We must operate democratically and promote our democratic institutions.”

Kedir Mersia, 24, a student at Addis Ababa University, requested not to be photographed, saying she feared being arrested and victimized by the government for doing so.

“Students have also been arrested and prosecuted for criticizing the government in good faith,” said Mersia. “Our government is very dictatorial and we need Obama to press for freedom of expression.”

Some believe suppression tactics favored by government officials will have long-term consequences for the country.

“They have already closed all independent mass media and jailed many opposition leaders,” said Danel Arias, an employee from a local health center. “Ethiopia will not grow if the government does not allow democratic space.”

4 Responses to In Ethiopia, a cry for basic freedoms

  1. whitestar July 27, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

    They can afford to laugh. We don’t have that luxury we must rely on Allah and on our own power to change our situation and Insha Allah we will have the last laugh very soon. Forget what US thinks or does no one is going to us serve victory, you have to fight for your freedom and dignity until you get it or die trying to do that.

  2. Mario July 27, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

    That big smile says it all. She suddenly bursted into such a laughter because there is nothing ridiculous and as laughable as the 100% win of woyanes/TPLF election. From that smile and laughter one can tell she without any doubt must have smiled/laughed twice: firstly without understanding what the implication of that result is and secondly after realizing how she and her government betrayed democracy and freedom loving peoples before and after the election.

    The other good thing is, all involved are exposed to their core in front of millions of viewers. If they have anything humane and logical in their systems, they should apologize to Ethiopians and all freedom loving peoples of the world.

  3. Obsaan Jirra July 28, 2015 at 5:07 am #

    “seeqanii sesseqanii kan addaan nu baasan jara”

  4. King Tut July 28, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    Theis woman is joke!!!

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