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Letter From Ethiopia's Gulag
By ESKINDER NEGA
Published in the New York Times
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — I AM jailed, with around 200 other inmates, in a wide hall that looks like a warehouse. For all of us, there are only three toilets. Most of the inmates sleep on the floor, which has never been swept. About 1,000 prisoners share the small open space here at Kaliti Prison. One can guess our fate if a communicable disease breaks out.
I was arrested in September 2011 and detained for nine months before I was found guilty in June 2012 under Ethiopia’s overly broad Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which ostensibly covers the “planning, preparation, conspiracy, incitement and attempt” of terrorist acts. In reality, the law has been used as a pretext to detain journalists who criticize the government. Last July, I was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
I’ve never conspired to overthrow the government; all I did was report on the Arab Spring and suggest that something similar might happen in Ethiopia if the authoritarian regime didn’t reform. The state’s main evidence against me was a YouTube video of me, saying this at a public meeting. I also dared to question the government’s ludicrous claim that jailed journalists were terrorists.
Under the previous regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, I was detained. So was my wife, Serkalem Fasil. She gave birth to our son in prison in 2005. (She was released in 2007.) Our newspapers were shut down under laws that claim to fight terrorism but really just muzzle the press.
We need the United States to speak out. In the long march of history, at least two poles of attraction and antagonism have been the norm in world politics. Rarely has only one nation carried the burden of leadership. The unipolar world of the 21st century, dominated for the past two decades by the United States, is a historical anomaly. And given America’s role, it bears a responsibility to defend democracy and speak out against those nations that trample it.
I distinctly remember the vivacious optimism that inundated the United States when the Soviet Union imploded in the early 1990s. This was not glee generated by the doom of an implacable enemy, but thrill germinated by the real possibilities that the future held for freedom.
And nothing encapsulated the spirit of the times better than the idea of “no democracy, no aid.” Democracy would no longer be the esoteric virtue of Westerners but the ubiquitous expression of our common humanity.
But sadly America’s actions have fallen far short of its words. Suspending aid, as many diplomats are apt to point out, is no panacea for all the ills of the world. Nor are sanctions. But that’s a poor excuse for the cynicism that dominates conventional foreign policy. There is space for transformative vision in diplomacy.
Sanctions tipped the balance against apartheid in South Africa, minority rule in Zimbabwe, and military dictatorship in Myanmar. Sanctions also buttressed peaceful transitions in these countries. Without the hope of peaceful resolution embedded in the sanctions, a descent to violence would have been inevitable.
Now that large swaths of Africa have become safely democratic, ancient and fragile Ethiopia, where a precarious dictatorship holds sway, is dangerously out of sync with the times.
In May, America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, visited Ethiopia and lauded the country’s economic growth. His words showed how little attention he paid to reality. The State Department’s annual report on human-rights conditions has been critical of Ethiopia’s government since 2005. I’d like to think that report represents the real stance of America’s government, rather than Mr. Kerry’s praise for our authoritarian leaders.
Not much has changed since our last dictator, Mr. Meles, died last August. There have been no major policy changes. The draconian press and antiterrorism laws are still there. There has been no improvement when it comes to press freedom.
With a population fast approaching 100 million, Ethiopia, unlike Somalia, is simply too big to ignore or contain with America’s regional proxies.
As Ethiopia goes, so goes the whole Horn of Africa — a region where instability can have major security and humanitarian implications for the United States and Europe. Al Qaeda has a presence here, and hundreds of millions of aid dollars flow into the region while millions of emigrants flow out.
In other words, Ethiopia must not be allowed to implode. And it would be irresponsible for the world’s lone superpower to stand by and do nothing.
It is time for the United States to live up to its historical pledge by taking action against Ethiopia, whose reckless government has, since 2005, been the world’s star backslider on democracy.
I propose that the United States impose economic sanctions on Ethiopia (while continuing to extend humanitarian aid without precondition) and impose travel bans on Ethiopian officials implicated in human rights violations.
Tyranny is increasingly unsustainable in this post-cold-war era. It is doomed to failure. But it must be prodded to exit the stage with a whimper — not the bang that extremists long for.
I am confident that America will eventually do the right thing. After all, the new century is the age of democracy primarily because of the United States.
Here in the Ethiopian gulag, this alone is reason enough to pay homage to the land of the brave.
Eskinder Nega, an Ethiopian journalist and the recipient of the 2012 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award, has been imprisoned since September 2011.
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 25, 2013, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Letter From Ethiopia’s Gulag.
The American traitor Edward Snowden “the NSA leaker” who is stranded at Moscow airport, his Russian lawyer gave him a book, Dostoyevsky’s “crime and punishment", so that he won’t be bored and to keep him company.
That’s what I would have done to the criminals the likes of eskinder and co at kaliti.
Yes, you do the crime, you do the time!
With freedom and democracy comes responsibility. If you cannot respect others’ right, freedom and democracy, you don’t deserve it neither. Most of all, leading a country is not just a childhood game or a get together at a bar joint.
EPRDF is a serious business. Can’t you see how they build the nation brick by brick practically?
Do you think by talking nonsense 24/7 without lifting a finger to work, and discrediting others who are working, and plotting how to destroy their work and destabilize the nation, could make you somebody important? Woregna hizb!
We need to educate our people, for education is the fundamentals of democracy. We need to build our economy, for poverty is the enemy of freedom.
Slowly but surely, EPRDF is building a free democratic and prosper Ethiopia for all, regardless of our different religion, ethnicity or language what so ever.
If you think America will set you free, good luck! Your next letter will be apology letter to The Ethiopian people.
Until then you will count your days in your new home.
Eskinder and the patriots shall never give up the fight .Eventhough Agazi Ass Holes ,Dirty Wod Ader Diasporas and Lekammi Bandas are here and there ploting to break them morally and physically .Afterall Shameless ,TPLF
pack Hyenas and mad dogs the likes Adgi and Co. shall once again bark their usual stupid bla blas of their so called “Anti Terrorism Law” .Including sell out bandas the likes of Pig Ben ,Hipo Sele ,Neway Dedebu ,even the actual recycled banda Late Runner dreaming of the throne of the Chimp Girma ,the Agazi’s Sheraton Saudi Sheik and many other opportunist Kilib Kebt Bandas shall once again shed here and there their tears of crocodile .
VIVA SKINDER NEGA !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
THE HELL TO THE BUNCH OF THE AGAZIS’ GARBAGIES AND PARASITES !!!!!!
Addis Fart and Baymeno
I am certain once we catch you and put you in jail to never see the day of light ever again for crimes of treason and against the people of Ethiopia, I am sure you will be writing a letter to Issaias to come and rescue you and take you back to where you came from.
Your fantasy Ethiopia is but a fantasy. Here is a reality for you….no one wants you… so leave Ethiopia. Your TPLF dreamland is dying out due to quickly aging out and running out of its expected short shelf life.
Don’t let us catch you day dreaming leave now or it will be never!!
As always, your comments and contributions regarding our country are always sharp and penetrating. Since Eskindir Nega is very ignorant of what had happened in the real Gulag by insolently juxtaposing his condition to that of what had happened in the then Soviet Union’s Gulag prisons, I would follow suit and post to him Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book “The Gulag Archipelago".
Knowing the frame work of his mind setting of deep rooted hate against the Ethiopian government who ousted the fascist military government that endorsed the politics of Stalinism and ran prisons like that of in Gulag where many innocent Ethiopian lives perished, I do hope this book will open his myopic brain cells so that he takes good notice of the words he utters similar to that of the ludicrous letter he wrote to the New York times.
The “Arab Spring” which he predicted would happen in Ethiopia that “allegedly” was the “reason” for his imprisonment(as he preposterously claims),would have taken root in Ethiopia if the kind of “Gulag prisons” that led to the mass protest in the Arab countries had existed in Ethiopia too. On the contrary, the Ethiopian government took the extra mile and even pardoned many of the members of the fascist Derg who were responsible for the deaths of innocent lives, a gesture that would never classify prisons in Ethiopia similar to that of Gulag.
As you clearly said, “With Freedom and Democracy comes Responsibility!” FULL STOP!
Individuals like Eskindir Nega who fail to bear responsibility but agitate and incite disorder and violence have no better places than to be locked behind bars.
Situations in Ethiopia now are such that the Ethiopian people are busily engaged to uplift our country from destitution and build a new Ethiopia and thus can not afford indiviuals who monger terror and vilence.
Ethiopia is prospering and shall continue to prosper!
Hmmm,…at least I can say that Eskindir is unique in the Ethiopian opposition in that he is consistent!
Unlike, Hailu SHawolf, Birhanu Niggas, Birtuqun Midaksa, and Teddy Afro who pretended to be ‘Jegnas’ and started begging the government for forgiveness ass soon as they were sent to Kaliti. Teddy even went as far as kissing EPRDF’s azz every time he gets on the stage.
Now coming back to Eskindir, I am somewhat skeptical that he actually wrote the letter because this letter smells a lot like Al Mariam to me.
In any case, the letter should have been addressed to his supporters and not the U.S. government which is busy with its own Kaliti (Gitmo); and its own Eskindir Nega (Snowden).
@ you both addis bushti & byamenu just wait as I say we don’t care about DAM or TRAIN bulshit un till we have 1 real ethiopiawi left we will die neck to neck ///
Ethiopia this day have lot of man & women more than any day we will win //
and the all world knows what’s going on in Ethiopia already cover up is over done//
the real freedom of kaliti and clean Ethiopians blood never west
with our greatest ABEBE GELAW TAMAGE they done amazing job all over the world //
as you watch @ Ethiopian soccer tournament even the woyane head al amudi get big blow in front of million we don’t bend over for fascist watch what is coming just listen to the time BOMB //////
I don’t think that this letter was written by Eskinder Nega.
Mr. Nega is at a maximum security jail where there is no computer, paper, pen or pencil. So, there is no chance for him to write this letter.
I believe that this letter was written as a ghost article by Prof Al Mariam.
If you look closely how this letter was written, you would notice that it had the hands of Prof. Al Mariam.
Hey, Prof Mariam, is this not illegal to write a ghost article?
May God bless Ethiopia and the USA.
To begin with, a gulag is a forced labour camp where people were worked to death (up to 20 hours a day).
E. Nega whines that he has to share a toilet with 66 other inmates. This shows how detached he is from the reality of an average Ethiopian. My family also had to share a toilet with at least as many people and we never thought of reporting this to the NY Times.
Mr. Nega, as to your complaint about dirty floors, you may wait till kingdom come until a housekeeper comes to your cell and sweeps it for you. If my 80 year old grandmother can sweep her floor, why can’t you?
Mr. Nega, we are not Norway, and Ethiopian tax payers are unable to provide you with the spa, pool, gym and flat screen tv.
Mr. Nega, you have indeed agitated to overthrow the government by violent means and that is documented in your own writings and by video evidence. You have admitted that you have called for Libyan kind of violent revolt in Ethiopia.
You tell us that our nation is about to implode just because you are in prison? Ethiopia is getting more stable, more peaceful, more advanced and more respected every day. You are irrelevant. Good riddance!!
What strikes me is not the ‘ fact’ that Eskinder wrote the NY Times but the ‘ editorial board’ has decided to qualify the ‘ authenticity’ of the ‘ facts’ on the ground. There is no prisoner in the World, let alone one located in a poor country like ‘ Ethiopia’ to assess the ‘ conditions’ as those similar to the ‘ Gulags’ of Siberia. I think the Times is going along just because it ‘ hates’ Ethiopia. In times past, the NYT had numerous articles about Ethiopia which resembled those written by members of the ArYan Nations. Some doubting our ‘ intelligence’ and others referring to ‘ stunted growth’ of our entire poppulation. I wrote a series of letters to the Editorial board of the NY Times, reminding it that the Journal is owned by Jewish folks and not KKK and alike.These days, the family, which owns this media is controlled by one of the richest families in Mexico of Lebanese decent . Thus sympathetic to the ‘ Egyptian cause’, what eve it might be. The NY Times, along with the National Public Radio were ‘ mum’ on Mursi’s rant and threat to both Ethiopia and the USA. I will never contribute a ‘ dime’ to NPR or buy any more NY Times. Nor should any other Ethiopian.
Now the NY Times is publishing a ‘ letter’ written by ‘ obviously’ deranged- looking unstable individual, while ignoring such pivotal issue like water- sharing and dam-building, not to mention threats against Israel and the US, I am not so sure Salzberg and his buddies will ever attempt to be the ‘ publishers’ of ‘ what is fit to print’.
I had close relatives, locked up, during the Dergue and EPRDF and my mom and relatives were hauling ‘ doro and beg wats’ all along. I am quite sure that Iskindir has similar access, given the ‘ wealth’ of his family. Those millions of victims of Stalin who were sent half way across Mighty Russia to the Gulags, were lucky to have had a ‘ loaf of bread’ let alone home- made cooking from ‘ tibs to kifo’ day in day out. I don’t condone the measures of the Govt to arrest journalist, by any stretch . But , I betcha Eskindir Nega has no idea what ‘ Gulag’ is all about. For all i care, i doubt very much his ‘ sincerity’. I am inclined to believe that he works for some ‘ foreign agents’ for having read his numerous articles, i couldn’t find one inspiring- enough to qualify him as award- winning. I am glad that his wife is released and think he should be too. But ‘ exile’is where he belongs. Reeyot Alemu is a ‘ different ball of game’. She is a smart and righteous journalist who shouldn’t belong in any ‘ detention center’. Eskinder Nega scares me, honestly speaking.
@ KENA KEB & ADDIS ZEMEN YOU BOTH ARE WELL KNOWN TPLF DONT WEST YOUR TIME AS SOON AS PEOPLE READ YOUR LIE WE ALL START SMAILING
THERE IS FEW WORD I HAVE TO SHARE. WITH YOU ALL DIE HARD WOYANES OUT THERE . ETHIOPIANS ARE ON THE EDGE YOUR GAME IS TO LATE NOW TO FIX . SO TO ME JUST COUNT YOUR DAYS IT’S JUST NUMBERS THANK’S TO ESAT THE ALL WORLD IS KNOWS WHAT IS GOING ON AGAIN
IF YOU TALK ABOUT ETHIOPIA PROGRESS 100% EVRYTHING IS CONTROLLED BY WOYANE . THE ALL ADDIS ABABA ELECTED OFFICIAL ARE TIGRE . WE DONT CARE TO THE ( DAM ) OR ANY PROJECT YOU MAY BRAG ABOUT IT . EVRYTHING IS AFTER FREEDOM END OF IT .
WE ETHIOPIAN WE HAVE MILLION ENGIEENERS CAN SHAP ETHIOPIA NO TIME SO STOP YOUR LIE IN FRONT OF OUR EYE . WOW THE SADEST THING IS WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT GOOD THINGS IN ETHIOPIA . DON’T YOU THINK PEOPLE SEE . WHAT YOU TALK ABOUT IS BEGGER ALL OVER ADDIS 14 YEARS OLD LITTEL GIRL OUT THERE STAND STREET CORNNER PROSTITUATION . TENAGE KIDS SLEEPING ON DAY LIGHT ON STREET CRY FOR HELP NEVER HAPPEN WHEN HAILESSELASEI OR MENGESTU WAS IN POWER THEY NEVER LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN FREEDOM TO THE HERO IS ON THE WAY BY FORCE ……………
Try “The Gulag Archipelago” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In fact the whole country is dotted with ethnic archipelago and Kaliti is a multiethnic gulag.
EPRDF is in a serious business of putting people behind bars for airing their opinions which may appear to be different than its prescribed ones. You are a testament to controlled mind.
Leading a country is piece of cake for a dictatorial government like EPRDF because all that is needed is having thugs in the shape of security forces who shoot first and ask later.
EPRDF is dismantling literally brick by brick the social fabric of the people and the foundation on which the country was built.
Slowly but surely, EPRDF is building a one party police state where no dissent whatsoever is tolerated and where laws are written to safeguard the interests of the ruling elites and their cronies.
Can’t you get that through your foggy mind? democracy and rule of law are inherently incompatible with EPRDF. Were it not so we wouldn’t be here
We need to brainwash, not educate, our people to produce more cadres like you.
. In fact the whole country is dotted with ethnic archipelago. That is dismantling not building a nation, cadre.
Eskinder ayngaleh lol
you want a sanction imposed on an already poor ethiopia do you? woyala
I am sad to hear your story and feel for you and your family but you should know that two wrongs dont make it right. You should know that Africa as a whole has a long long way to go to get to where the USA is with regards democracy. The problem with you lot is you want ethiopia to be what the west is today. That is just delusional.
The usa is like a prostitute. They will look at what suits them. And ethiopia is doing alot for them which is why Kerryz stans is where it is.
Just ask for pardon and let ethiopia grow at her pace. You should be out for ur boy and family. dont try to bea hero. look after number 1.
your other option is to stay where u are cos everyon knows the usa, a major funder to the Ethiopian army wont help you.
look after number 1.
Thanks, you raised a great point.
The shameless so called opposition losers including eskinder have lost their thinking capability. As long as it suites them to build their fragile ego, they wouldn’t mind to use any word.
Here, it is not a surprise when they call our prison system a gulag which stands for the old soviet forced labour camp.
Remember these losers are also the people who are calling our govt an apartheid regime.
These are the losers who call a foreign direct investment as Ethiopia being sold to the highest bidder.
As long as their wish of destruction and our country’s failure doesn’t come true, they will keep crying wolf. And of course, at the end of the day, where ever they’re, the wolf will devour them alive.
Ethiopia is in a good hand!
You eventually will be known for your bad dreams than what you think you are.
Destroying people from Tigray being your aim, if New York times would have done their investigation, they would have not published it. I do not believe they want to see another
You dream also will never materialize, because 99% of Ethiopians do not have poisonous brain like yours.
Please stop this journalism nonsense, where you should not belong.
And you had the gut to criticize John Kerry; Stupidity of course.
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