Ethiopian finds freedom on airwaves of Las Vegas
By Tim O'Reiley LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL | September 17, 2012
When Ethiopian police called in Habtamu Assefa Seme to give fingerprints seven years ago, he took the hint.
"In my country, the highest criminals have to give fingerprints," Seme said. "They prepared fabricated charges and we knew what was coming."
As a reporter with an independent newspaper and a leader of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association, Seme knew his future likely included lengthy jail time and beatings.
He posted bail after a few hours of detention in October 2005 and departed for Egypt two months later. He eventually gained refugee status, opening the way for him and his wife, Merkeb, to start over in Las Vegas five years ago.
His new life includes the 2009 launch of Hiber Ethiopian Radio, his Amharic-language program that airs Sunday evenings on KRLV-AM (1340). Seme is not only the on-air voice but buys the air time, picks the programming, a mix of call-ins by listeners and reports on anything from Ethiopian politics to Nevada mortgage laws. He also works the graveyard shift as a utility porter for Wynn Resorts Ltd.
"In my country, I have no right to express freedom of speech," he said "Here in American I can. Now I exercise my right and no one beats me, no one puts me in jail. That is a big difference."
His audience is the thousands of Ethiopians working as taxi and limousine drivers and in restaurants or back-of-the-house functions at Las Vegas resorts.
Although he still refers to Ethiopia as "my country," he said he has started his U.S. citizenship application, especially since his two children were born in Las Vegas, making them American citizens.
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