Letter from Ethiopia to Columbia University
By Serkalem Fasil and Eskinder Nega | September 20, 2010

President Lee C. Bollinger
Office of the President
Columbia University
202 Low Library
535 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027

Email: officeofthepresident@columbia.edu

Dear President Lee C. Bollinger,

The victims of rights abuse take on WLF’s invitation to PM Meles Zenawi, who though an infamously adept human rights violator, the details of which are conscientiously documented by human rights organizations, is scheduled to speak at Columbia on September 22nd 2010. We feel victims have too often been ignored by WLF.

We are banned Ethiopian journalists who were charged with treason by the government of PM Meles Zenawi subsequent to disputed election results in 2005, incarcerated under deplorable circumstances, only to be acquitted sixteen months later; after Serkalem Fasil prematurely gave birth in prison.

Severely underweight at birth because Serkalem’s physical and psychological privation in one of Africa’s worst prisons, an incubator was deemed life-saving to the new-born child by prison doctors; which was, in an act of incomprehensible vindictiveness, denied by the authorities. (The child nevertheless survived miraculously. Thanks to God.)

Such is the government that PM Meles Zenawi leads.

Despite Serkalem’s difficult pregnancy, both of us managed to keep detailed notes of the sham trial while it was in progress, which were smuggled out of prison. The notes were swiftly altered into a 1000 pages book three months after our acquittal, and rushed to a printer for publication. Arrangements were made to publish the book in two parts, and a sixty thousand birr (five to six thousand US dollars) deposit was paid for an approximately 570 pages book.

Fifteen days later we received an unexpected call from a much traumatized proprietor of the printing press, who returned our manuscript and deposit explaining that he had been visited by members of the Ethiopian security, who explicitly threatened his life should he fail to halt printing of the book.

Such is the government that PM Meles Zenawi leads.

A few months later we applied for a press license to resume our work as journalists after fulfilling all legal requirements. To the surprise of even the government’s apologists, we and others were officially denied press licenses that are our due by virtue of the constitution and the press law. Ethiopia now has no independent press. In place of one of Africa’s most fiery free press is a token press that is cowed in every sense of the word. And thus many free press journalists have been exiled.

Such is the government that PM Meles Zenawi leads.

It is incongruous that a leader who is actively suppressing freedom of expression in his country should now be eagerly awaiting the privilege of expressing his thoughts on the august premises of Columbia University. Though it is hardly to the insight of PM Meles Zenawi , Columbia University has always sided with the voiceless and the victims of oppression throughout its long and magnificent history.

While we acknowledge his right to express his views, it is an affront to his government's numerous victims of repression to grant him the privilege to do so on the notable premises of Columbia.

All in all, the enthrallment of WLF with despots instead of their victims is strikingly lopsided. The time for a correction has come.

All the best,

Serkalem Fasil and Eskinder Nega.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

CC: Professor Joseph Stiglitz , Professor Jeffrey Sachs

Editor's note: Eskinder Nega and his award-winning wife, Serkalem Fassil are prominent Ethiopian journalists who have been in prison under deplorable conditions. Their newspapers were shut down following the nationwide crackdown the regime launched after it lost the 2005 elections but remained in power by declaring a state of emergency (terror). To this very day, Serkalem, Eskinder and their colleagues remain stripped of their right to work in the publishing industry. Email: serk27@gmail.com

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