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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Welcome Home and A Look Forward

Meron Wondwosen

"That justice is a blind goddess is a thing to which we [Ethiopians] are wise. Her bandage hides two festering sores that once perhaps were eyes." Langston Hughes

To speak of justice in Ethiopia is to speak of a farce. To expect justice is to imagine a fairy godmother. To wish for that elusive pot of gold. At the end of our rainbow there isn't a green creature with promises of riches but rather a cruel and merciless dictator whose iron fists rule over Ethiopia.

The guilty verdict followed by a two and a half year sentence rendered against my cousin Daniel Bekele and his partner Netsanet Demissie is not a victory for the military junta's court system. Nor is it evidence that the "justice" system with its abundant delays, draconian laws, sick judges and arbitrary detention rules actually functions. No. If there is a victory to be claimed, then it belongs to those who persevered against all adversity and defended Daniel and Netsanet. Victory, bittersweet as it may be, belongs to Daniel and Netsanet. Its hard to imagine what is on the minds of these courageous men who lost more than two years of their lives in the depressing, barbed wire existence that is Kality prison. What is irrefutable is that they exemplify dignity to the highest degree. They had nothing—no wealth, no political aspirations—nothing at all except their dignity and their principles. And in the tradition of many African women and men before them, they stuck to truth—come hell or Meles Zenawi's kangaroo court.

The ordeal of these two men has always had larger implications. The struggle for their freedom has been about the right of all Ethiopians to live without fear that our houses will be raided, our newspapers and radios silenced, our young men arrested en masse and our courageous women, incarcerated and some forced to give birth in prison.

Through this trial, the rest of the world began to see, some albeit begrudgingly, the rampant human rights violations committed by the current regime. During the span of this trial, Somalia was invaded by Zenawi's army and is currently mired in a humanitarian crisis; Ogaden burned as fellow Ethiopians were slaughtered under the Prime Minister's orders; Finally Ethiopia's integrity was compromised as the dictator allowed the CIA to operate its extraordinary rendition (read: torture) programs on our soil. As for the economy, well, measured on any index, the country lags behind and is an utter development disaster.

So it is in the midst of the continuing struggle for the liberation of Ethiopia that we welcome Daniel and Netsanet back into our arms and into the community of people all over the world who worked every single day since November 2005 to free them.

Eighty million Ethiopians suffer daily under a ruthless dictatorship. Let us rise and speak on their behalf as we did for Daniel and Netsanet. While we won this battle, the war rages on. The work is not done until we have freed Ethiopia from the clutches of this brutal cabal.

A La Luta Continua!

Meron Wondwosen is an attorney, human rights activist and cousin of prisoner of conscience Daniel Bekele.